Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Versus Usual Clinical Care for Youth Depression: An Initial Test of Transportability to Community Clinics and Clinicians

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Abstract

Community clinic therapists were randomized to (a) brief training and supervision in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for youth depression or (b) usual care (UC). The therapists treated 57 youths (56% girls), ages 8-15, of whom 33% were Caucasian, 26% were African American, and 26% were Latino/Latina. Most youths were from low-income families and all had Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.; American Psychiatric Association, 1994) depressive disorders (plus multiple comorbidities). All youths were randomized to CBT or UC and treated until normal termination. Session coding showed more use of CBT by CBT therapists and more psychodynamic and family approaches by UC therapists. At posttreatment, depression symptom measures were at subclinical levels, and 75% of youths had no remaining depressive disorder, but CBT and UC groups did not differ on these outcomes. However, compared with UC, CBT was (a) briefer (24 vs. 39 weeks), (b) superior in parent-rated therapeutic alliance, (c) less likely to require additional services (including all psychotropics combined and depression medication in particular), and (d) less costly. The findings showed advantages for CBT in parent engagement, reduced use of medication and other services, overall cost, and possibly speed of improvement—a hypothesis that warrants testing in future research.

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