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.