Mechanisms of Change in Cognitive Therapy for Major Depressive Disorder in the Community Mental Health Setting

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Abstract

Objective: This study examined the relation of change in theory-relevant cognitive variables to depressive symptom change over the course of cognitive therapy, as well as the specificity of change mechanisms to cognitive therapy as compared with dynamic therapy. Method: There were 237 adult outpatients who were randomized to either cognitive (n = 119) or dynamic (n = 118) therapy for major depressive disorder in a community mental health setting. Assessments of compensatory skills (Ways of Responding Community Version and Self-Report Version), dysfunctional attitudes (Dysfunctional Attitudes Scale), and depressogenic schemas (Psychological Distance Scaling Task) were obtained at baseline and months 1, 2, and 5 following baseline. Primary outcome was measured using the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. Results: Across both therapy conditions, change in all 3 cognitive domains was associated with concurrent change in depressive symptoms. After controlling for other cognitive variables, increased interconnectedness of the positive achievement-related schema was significantly associated with concurrent symptom change in cognitive (rp = .26, p < .001) but not dynamic therapy (rp = .08, p = .29). Increases in positive compensatory skills were associated with subsequent change in depressive symptoms in cognitive therapy (rp = −.36, p = .003), but not in dynamic therapy (rp = .11, p = .386). Conclusions: Results provide support for the compensatory skills model of cognitive therapy (CT) within a community mental health setting. Additional research is necessary to understand other possible mechanisms of change in CT in the community setting.

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