Psychotherapy versus second-generation antidepressants in the treatment of depression: a meta-analysis

J Nerv Ment Dis. 2011 Mar;199(3):142-9. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e31820caefb.


Most meta-analyses have concluded that psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy yield roughly similar efficacy in the short-term treatment of depression, with psychotherapy showing some advantage at long-term follow-up. However, a recent meta-analysis found that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors medications were superior to psychotherapy in the short-term treatment of depression. To incorporate results of several recent trials into the meta-analytic literature, we conducted a meta-analysis of trials which directly compared psychotherapy to second-generation antidepressants (SGAs). Variables potentially moderating the quality of psychotherapy or medication delivery were also examined, to allow the highest quality comparison of both types of intervention. Bona fide psychotherapies showed equivalent efficacy in the short-term and slightly better efficacy on depression rating scales at follow-up relative to SGA. Non-bona fide therapies had significantly worse short-term outcomes than medication (d = 0.58). No significant differences emerged between treatments in terms of response or remission rates, but non-bona fide therapies had significantly lower rates of study completion than medication (odds ratio = 0.55). Bona fide psychotherapy appears as effective as SGAs in the short-term treatment of depression, and likely somewhat more effective than SGAs in the longer-term management of depressive symptoms.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation / administration & dosage
  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation / therapeutic use*
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychotherapy*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation