Effects of Scheduled Waiting for Psychotherapy in Patients With Major Depression

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The role of nonspecific factors in the outcome of psychotherapy is poorly understood. To study the effects of pretreatment expectancy of scheduled psychotherapy, we examined the effects of an agreed waiting time on the outcome of psychodynamic psychotherapy. Thirty-three treatment-naive outpatients with major depressive disorder were randomly selected to start psychotherapy either directly (DG; n = 17) or after waiting for 6 months (WG; n = 16). In WG, 18% to 60% of the total decline in symptoms took place during the waiting time. After 1 year of active psychotherapy, the anxiety score declined significantly only in WG, and the total length of treatment needed was shorter in WG. No other outcome differences between WG and DG were found. We conclude that scheduled waiting associates with a significant decline in depressive symptoms. Scheduled waiting should be regarded as a preparatory treatment and not as an inert nontreatment control.

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