NIMH: Psychotherapy and Antidepressant Medications Work Best

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Treatment choice will depend on the outcome of the evaluation. There are a variety of antidepressant medications and psychotherapies that can be used to treat depressive disorders. Some people with milder forms may do well with psychotherapy alone. People with moderate to severe depression often benefit from antidepressants. Most do best with combined treatment: antidepressant medication to gain relatively quick symptom relief and psychotherapy to learn more effective ways to deal with life's problems, including depression. Depending on the patient's diagnosis and severity of symptoms, the therapist may prescribe antidepressant medication and/or one of the several forms of psychotherapy that have proven effective for depression.

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Many forms of psychotherapy, including some short-term (10-20 weeks) therapies, can help depressed individuals. "Talking" therapies help patients gain insight into and resolve their problems through verbal "give-and-take" with the therapist. "Behavioral" therapies help patients learn how to obtain more satisfaction and rewards through their own actions and how to unlearn the behavioral patterns that contribute to or result from their depression.

Two of the short-term psychotherapies that research has shown helpful for some forms of depression are interpersonal and cognitive/behavioral therapies. Interpersonal therapists focus on the patient's disturbed personal relationships that both cause and exacerbate (or increase) the depression. Cognitive-behavioral therapists help patients change the negative styles of thinking and behaving often associated with depression.

Psychodynamic therapies, which are sometimes used to treat depressed persons, focus on resolving the patient's internal conflicts. These therapies are often reserved until the depressive symptoms are significantly improved. In general, severe depressive illnesses, particularly those that are recurrent, will require medication (or ECT under special conditions) along with, or preceding, psychotherapy for the best outcome.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2009, March 15). NIMH: Psychotherapy and Antidepressant Medications Work Best, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Last Updated: January 14, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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