Depression is often successfully treated by talk therapy

Depression is a common illness, and there are many forms of treatment. While antidepressant medications are highly popular and often work well, patients should not underestimate the power of non-pharmaceutical approaches.

In a study published Wednesday, researchers reviewed the scientific literature on a type of talk therapy called interpersonal psychotherapy. This is talk therapy that takes place for a limited period of time during which the therapist and patient identify the problem, such as grief, and work on strategies in interpersonal relationships that will improve the situation. It was developed specifically for the treatment of depression.

Researchers reviewed 38 studies involving 4,356 patients that compared interpersonal psychotherapy to other forms of therapy or combination approaches. They found that interpersonal psychotherapy was clearly more effective than no treatment at all. Pharmacotherapy -- taking medication -- was slightly more effective than interpersonal psychotherapy. The combination of medication and interpersonal psychotherapy, however, was more effective in preventing relapse than medication alone.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is another non-drug option for treating depression. The analysis found the two forms of talk therapy to be equally effective, although the number of studies analyzed was small.


Overall, the studies show a “moderate to large effect” of interpersonal therapy on treatment of depression, the authors wrote. The information is important because some types of depression, such as a disorder called “complicated grief,” do not respond as well to antidepressants. The authors noted: “Medication and psychotherapies presumably work by different mechanisms. . .”

The study is published online in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Related: Food depression: Eating bad may make you sad

Return to Booster Shots blog.