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Psychol Bull. 2015 Jul;141(4):747-68. doi: 10.1037/bul0000015. Epub 2015 May 11.

The effects of cognitive behavioral therapy as an anti-depressive treatment is falling: A meta-analysis.

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Faculty of Health Sciences, Department of Psychology, UiT the Arctic University of Norway, University of Tromsø


A meta-analysis examining temporal changes (time trends) in the effects of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a treatment for unipolar depression was conducted. A comprehensive search of psychotherapy trials yielded 70 eligible studies from 1977 to 2014. Effect sizes (ES) were quantified as Hedge's g based on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD). Rates of remission were also registered. The publication year of each study was examined as a linear metaregression predictor of ES, and as part of a 2-way interaction with other moderators (Year × Moderator). The average ES of the BDI was 1.58 (95% CI [1.43, 1.74]), and 1.69 for the HRSD (95% CI [1.48, 1.89]). Subgroup analyses revealed that women profited more from therapy than did men (p < .05). Experienced psychologists (g = 1.55) achieved better results (p < .01) than less experienced student therapists (g = 0.98). The metaregressions examining the temporal trends indicated that the effects of CBT have declined linearly and steadily since its introduction, as measured by patients' self-reports (the BDI, p < .001), clinicians' ratings (the HRSD, p < .01) and rates of remission (p < .01). Subgroup analyses confirmed that the declining trend was present in both within-group (pre/post) designs (p < .01) and controlled trial designs (p = .02). Thus, modern CBT clinical trials seemingly provided less relief from depressive symptoms as compared with the seminal trials. Potential causes and possible implications for future studies are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record.

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