Work-focused treatment of common mental disorders and return to work: a comparative outcome study

J Occup Health Psychol. 2012 Apr;17(2):220-34. doi: 10.1037/a0027049. Epub 2012 Feb 6.


The aim of this study was to compare the effectiveness of two individual-level psychotherapy interventions: (a) treatment as usual consisting of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and (b) work-focused CBT (W-CBT) that integrated work aspects early into the treatment. Both interventions were carried out by psychotherapists with employees on sick leave because of common mental disorders (depression, anxiety, or adjustment disorder). In a quasi-experimental design, 12-month follow-up data of 168 employees were collected. The CBT group consisted of 79 clients, the W-CBT group of 89. Outcome measures were duration until return to work (RTW), mental health problems, and costs to the employer. We found significant effects on duration until RTW in favor of the W-CBT group: full RTW occurred 65 days earlier. Partial RTW occurred 12 days earlier. A significant decrease in mental health problems was equally present in both conditions. The average financial advantage for the employer of an employee in the W-CBT group was estimated at $5,275 U.S. dollars compared with the CBT group. These results show that through focusing more and earlier on work-related aspects and RTW, functional recovery in work can be substantially speeded up within a regular psychotherapeutic setting. This result was achieved without negative side effects on psychological complaints over the course of 1 year. Integrating work-related aspects into CBT is, therefore, a fruitful approach with benefits for employees and employers alike.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adjustment Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Adjustment Disorders / therapy
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / rehabilitation
  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Depression / rehabilitation
  • Depression / therapy
  • Employment / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / rehabilitation*
  • Intellectual Disability / therapy
  • Male
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Sick Leave
  • Treatment Outcome