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Clin Psychol Rev. 2001 Apr;21(3):401-19.

Comparative effects of short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy in depression: a meta-analytic approach.

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  • 1University of Göttingen, Department of Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy, Von Sieboldstr. 5, D-37075 Göttingen, Germany.


This article reviews the efficacy of short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy (STPP) in depression compared to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or behavioral therapy (BT). In this review, only studies in which at least 13 therapy sessions were performed have been included, and a sufficient number of patients per group were treated (N > or = 20). With regard to outcome criteria, the results were reviewed for improvements in depressive symptoms, general psychiatric symptoms, and social functioning. Six studies met the inclusion criteria.


In 58 of the 60 comparisons (97%) performed in the six studies and their follow-ups, no significant difference could be detected between STPP and CBT/BT concerning the effects in depressive symptoms, general psychiatric symptomatology, and social functioning. Furthermore, STPP and CBT/BT did not differ significantly with regard to the patients that were judged as remitted or improved. According to a meta-analytic procedure described by R. Rosenthal (1991) the studies do not differ significantly with regard to the patients that were judged as remitted or improved after treatment with STPP or CBT/BT. The mean difference between STPP and CBT/BT concerning the number of patients that were judged as remitted or improved corresponds to a small effect size (post-assessment: phi = 0.08, follow-up assessment: phi = 0.12). Thus, STPP and CBT/BT seem to be equally effective methods in the treatment of depression. However, because of the small number of studies which met the inclusion criteria, this result can only be preliminary. Furthermore, it applies only to the specific forms of STPP that were examined in the selected studies and cannot be generalized to other forms of STPP. Further studies are needed to examine the effects of specific forms of STPP in both controlled and naturalistic settings. Furthermore, there are findings indicating that 16-20 sessions of both STPP and CBT/BT are insufficient for most patients to achieve lasting remission. Future studies should address the effects of longer treatments of depression.

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