The research found that CBT was effective in helping to relieve symptoms of depression
For some patients, antidepressants give near-immediate relief from the symptoms of depression, which may include fatigue, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness and loss of interest in activities or hobbies, for example. But for many, the same medications just don’t work. They may alleviate the symptoms to some extent but not fully, they may not work at all, or the side effects may be too great to make the medication helpful.
New research shows that cognitive behavioural therapy, when used along with usual care, can be as effective in patients who don’t respond to medication.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) involves a therapist talking through a patient’s current thoughts and feelings (rather than focusing on the past, as some other forms of therapy do) and then suggesting ways in which a person can change those habitual thought patterns and beliefs. Different coping strategies are suggested and a person’s overall approach to life, their way of viewing themselves and others, can be altered so that mental wellbeing is improved. Researchers from the Universities of Bristol, Exeter and Glasgow recruited 469 patients in order to assess how effective CBT was in helping to relieve symptoms of depression in those for whom medications did not work. All the patients were classified as having treatment-resistent depression.
They were split into two groups – one group continued to get the usual care from their GP, including continuing to take medication; the other group also got the usual care, including medication, but they also had cognitive behavioural therapy.
The participants were checked at six months and then a year afterwards to see how effective the therapy had been. At the six month point nearly half of the CBT group had improved, compared to just 22% of the other non-CBT group. Improvement was classed as when a participant showed at least a 50% reduction in symptoms of depression. This benefit was maintained over the year.
These are important findings, say the researchers, as they suggest that although antidepressants are most often the first treatment offered to patients, CBT should be offered more routinely to patients worldwide.
In the UK CBT is available on the NHS to depressed patients who haven’t shown improvements with other forms of treatment.
It is possible to use CBT methods in other ways – self-help books with exercises can be useful, and you can also utilise a computer-based CBT programme. Some are free and there are many others that require payment. Ask your GP to recommend one that would work best for you.
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