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July 2013

Psychotherapy Evaluated for Treating Symptoms of Depression

There is evidence that psychotherapy may be effective in the treatment of depression, though results vary depending on the type of intervention, a study reports.

Psychotherapy is an interactive process between a person and a qualified mental health professional (psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, licensed counselor, or other trained practitioner). Its purpose is the exploration of thoughts, feelings, and behavior for the purpose problem solving or achieving higher levels of functioning.

Psychotherapists are bound by professional and legal standards of ethics, such as protecting the confidentiality of information provided by clients or patients, not engaging in inappropriate behavior with a client or patient, and protecting the safety of children by reporting suspected child abuse to legal authorities. Psychoanalytic theory is one of four major approaches to psychotherapy. The others are behavioral (primarily concerned with behavioral processes and outcomes), humanistic (focused on existential issues, meaning, and self-actualization), and transpersonal (focused on transcendent awareness and the spiritual dimensions of life). These four main approaches are blended in many different varieties of psychotherapy.

In the current study, researchers conducted a review of 198 studies involving 15,118 adults with depression. The types of psychotherapy evaluated in the studies included interpersonal therapy, supportive therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and problem-solving therapy.

The results suggested that all of the psychotherapy interventions effectively reduced depression, with a range of moderate to large effects. Interpersonal therapy appeared to be more effective than supportive therapy. When the researchers looked at the sample size of each study, they found significant effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and problem-solving therapy.

The authors concluded that overall, the findings are consistent with the theory that different types of psychotherapy may have comparable benefits. However, the strength of the evidence may vary depending on the type of intervention. More research is needed to better understand and confirm these results.

In addition to psychotherapy, many other complementary and alternative therapies have been evaluated for possible benefit in treating depression and related conditions. There is strong scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of light therapy, music therapy, and St. John's wort in enhancing mood and relieving symptoms of depression.

For more information about psychotherapy, please visit Natural Standard's Health & Wellness Database.


  1. Barth J, Munder T, Gerger H, et al. Comparative efficacy of seven psychotherapeutic interventions for patients with depression: a network meta-analysis. PLoS Med. 2013;10(5):e1001454. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001454. Epub 2013 May 28. 
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 

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