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Am J Psychiatry. 2015 Sep 1;172(9):862-9. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.14101293. Epub 2015 Apr 10.

Randomized Trial of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Versus Light Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder: Acute Outcomes.

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From the Department of Psychological Science, University of Vermont, and the Department of Medical Biostatistics, University of Vermont College of Medicine, Burlington, Vt.; the Department of Psychiatry, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore; and Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 5, Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC), Baltimore, and VISN 19 Rocky Mountain MIRECC, Denver.



Whereas considerable evidence supports light therapy for winter seasonal affective disorder (SAD), data on cognitive-behavioral therapy for SAD (CBT-SAD) are promising but preliminary. This study estimated the difference between CBT-SAD and light therapy outcomes in a large, more definitive test.


The participants were 177 adults with a current episode of major depression that was recurrent with a seasonal pattern. The randomized clinical trial compared 6 weeks of CBT-SAD (N=88) and light therapy (N=89). Light therapy consisted of 10,000-lux cool-white florescent light, initiated at 30 minutes each morning and adjusted according to a treatment algorithm based on response and side effects. CBT-SAD comprised 12 sessions of the authors' SAD-tailored protocol in a group format and was administered by Ph.D. psychologists in two 90-minute sessions per week. Outcomes were continuous scores on the Structured Interview Guide for the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression-SAD Version (SIGH-SAD, administered weekly) and Beck Depression Inventory-Second Edition (BDI-II, administered before treatment, at week 3, and after treatment) and posttreatment remission status based on cut points.


Depression severity measured with the SIGH-SAD and BDI-II improved significantly and comparably with CBT-SAD and light therapy. Having a baseline comorbid diagnosis was associated with higher depression scores across all time points in both treatments. CBT-SAD and light therapy did not differ in remission rates based on the SIGH-SAD (47.6% and 47.2%, respectively) or the BDI-II (56.0% and 63.6%).


CBT-SAD and light therapy are comparably effective for SAD during an acute episode, and both may be considered as treatment options.


[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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