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Am J Psychiatry. 2010 Dec;167(12):1456-63. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2010.10040570. Epub 2010 Aug 4.

National trends in outpatient psychotherapy.

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Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, 10032, USA.



The authors investigated recent trends in the use of outpatient psychotherapy in the United States.


Service use data from two representative surveys of the U.S. general population, the 1998 (N=22,953) and 2007 (N=29,370) Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys, were analyzed, focusing on individuals who made more than one outpatient psychotherapy visit during that calendar year. The authors computed rates of any psychotherapy use; percentages of persons treated for mental health conditions with only psychotherapy, only psychotropic medication, or their combination; the mean number of psychotherapy visits of persons receiving psychotherapy; and psychotherapy expenditures.


The percentage of persons using outpatient psychotherapy was 3.37% in 1998 and 3.18% in 2007 (adjusted odds ratio=0.95, 95% CI=0.82-1.09). Among individuals receiving outpatient mental health care, use of only psychotherapy (15.9% and 10.5% in 1998 and 2007, respectively; adjusted odds ratio=0.66, 95% CI=0.48-0.90) as well as psychotherapy and psychotropic medication together (40.0% and 32.1%; adjusted odds ratio=0.73, 95% CI=0.59-0.90) declined while use of only psychotropic medication increased (44.1% and 57.4%; adjusted odds ratio=1.63, 95% CI=1.32-2.00). Declines occurred in annual psychotherapy visits per psychotherapy patient (mean values, 9.7 and 7.9; adjusted β=-1.53, p<0.0001), mean expenditure per psychotherapy visit ($122.80 and $94.59; β=28.21, p<0.0001), and total national psychotherapy expenditures ($10.94 and $7.17 billion; z=2.61, p=0.009).


During the decade from 1998 to 2007, the percentage of the general population who used psychotherapy remained stable. Over the same period, however, psychotherapy assumed a less prominent role in outpatient mental health care as a large and increasing proportion of mental health outpatients received psychotropic medication without psychotherapy.

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