Effectiveness of psychological treatments for depressive disorders in primary care: systematic review and meta-analysis

Ann Fam Med. 2015 Jan-Feb;13(1):56-68. doi: 10.1370/afm.1719.


Purpose: We performed a systematic review of the currently available evidence on whether psychological treatments are effective for treating depressed primary care patients in comparison with usual care or placebo, taking the type of therapy and its delivery mode into account.

Methods: Randomized controlled trials comparing a psychological treatment with a usual care or a placebo control in adult, depressed, primary care patients were identified by searches in MEDLINE, Embase, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), and PsycINFO up to December 2013. At least 2 reviewers extracted information from included studies and assessed the risk of bias. Random effects meta-analyses were performed using posttreatment depression scores as outcome.

Results: A total of 30 studies with 5,159 patients met the inclusion criteria. Compared with control, the effect (standardized mean difference) at completion of treatment was -0.30 (95% CI, -0.48 to -0.13) for face-to-face cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), -0.14 (-0.40 to 0.12) for face-to-face problem-solving therapy, -0.24 (-0.47 to -0.02) for face-to-face interpersonal psychotherapy, -0.28 (-0.44 to -0.12) for other face-to-face psychological interventions, -0.43 (-0.62 to -0.24) for remote therapist-led CBT, -0.56 (-1.57 to 0.45) for remote therapist-led problem-solving therapy, -0.40 (-0.69 to -0.11) for guided self-help CBT, and -0.27 (-0.44 to -0.10) for no or minimal contact CBT.

Conclusions: There is evidence that psychological treatments are effective in depressed primary care patients. For CBT approaches, substantial evidence suggests that interventions that are less resource intensive might have effects similar to more intense treatments.

Keywords: cognitive therapy; depression; depressive disorders; primary health care; psychotherapy; review, systematic; therapeutics.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Telemedicine / methods
  • Treatment Outcome