National trends in outpatient psychotherapy

Am J Psychiatry. 2010 Dec;167(12):1456-63. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2010.10040570. Epub 2010 Aug 4.


Objective: The authors investigated recent trends in the use of outpatient psychotherapy in the United States.

Method: Service use data from two representative surveys of the U.S. general population, the 1998 (N=22,953) and 2007 (N=29,370) Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys, were analyzed, focusing on individuals who made more than one outpatient psychotherapy visit during that calendar year. The authors computed rates of any psychotherapy use; percentages of persons treated for mental health conditions with only psychotherapy, only psychotropic medication, or their combination; the mean number of psychotherapy visits of persons receiving psychotherapy; and psychotherapy expenditures.

Results: The percentage of persons using outpatient psychotherapy was 3.37% in 1998 and 3.18% in 2007 (adjusted odds ratio=0.95, 95% CI=0.82-1.09). Among individuals receiving outpatient mental health care, use of only psychotherapy (15.9% and 10.5% in 1998 and 2007, respectively; adjusted odds ratio=0.66, 95% CI=0.48-0.90) as well as psychotherapy and psychotropic medication together (40.0% and 32.1%; adjusted odds ratio=0.73, 95% CI=0.59-0.90) declined while use of only psychotropic medication increased (44.1% and 57.4%; adjusted odds ratio=1.63, 95% CI=1.32-2.00). Declines occurred in annual psychotherapy visits per psychotherapy patient (mean values, 9.7 and 7.9; adjusted β=-1.53, p<0.0001), mean expenditure per psychotherapy visit ($122.80 and $94.59; β=28.21, p<0.0001), and total national psychotherapy expenditures ($10.94 and $7.17 billion; z=2.61, p=0.009).

Conclusions: During the decade from 1998 to 2007, the percentage of the general population who used psychotherapy remained stable. Over the same period, however, psychotherapy assumed a less prominent role in outpatient mental health care as a large and increasing proportion of mental health outpatients received psychotropic medication without psychotherapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care / economics
  • Ambulatory Care / trends*
  • Drug Utilization / economics
  • Drug Utilization / trends
  • Health Care Surveys / methods
  • Health Expenditures / trends
  • Humans
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Psychotherapy / economics
  • Psychotherapy / trends*
  • United States