Prediction of the outcome of short- and long-term psychotherapy based on socio-demographic factors

J Affect Disord. 2012 Dec 10;141(2-3):331-42. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2012.03.027. Epub 2012 Apr 18.


Background: Socio-demographic factors predict the outcome of short-term psychotherapy (STT) in the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders, but information on the prediction for long long-term therapy (LPP) is lacking. We aimed to compare the prediction of changes in psychiatric symptoms afforded by socio-demographic factors across two treatment conditions, short- versus long-term psychotherapy.

Methods: In the Helsinki Psychotherapy Study, 326 outpatients with mood or anxiety disorders, aged 20-46 years, were randomly assigned to STT or LPP. Socio-demographic factors (i.e. age, gender, education, employment status, marital status, and living arrangement) were self-reported. Psychiatric symptoms were measured by the Symptom Check List, Global Severity Index (SCL-90-GSI) and Anxiety scale (SCL-90-Anx), and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) at baseline and seven times during a three-year follow-up period.

Results: Socio-demographic factors were found to predict symptom development during follow-up irrespective of the baseline symptom level. Patients in a relatively good position, i.e. married and highly educated patients benefited from STT, whereas patients in less advantaged positions, i.e. homemakers, lone parents, and divorced patients needed LPP or did not benefit from either therapy. In several categories of socio-demographic factors, the extent to which a patient's background predicted the outcome of the psychotherapy varied according to whether general, anxiety or depressive symptoms were studied.

Limitations: We were unable to assess widows and pensioners. For ethical reasons, a no-treatment control group with a long follow-up could not be included in the study design.

Conclusions: Socio-demographic factors may need to be considered in the selection of patients for short- and long-term therapy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy*
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychotherapy*
  • Psychotherapy, Brief
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult