[Effectiveness of psychotherapy compared to pharmacotherapy for the treatment of anxiety and depressive disorders in adults: A literature review]

Sante Ment Que. 2015 Winter;40(4):141-73.
[Article in French]


Introduction In Quebec, mental disorders affect one in five people in their lifetime. Anxiety and depressive disorders are the main common or moderate mental health disorders. They affect both the individuals with the disorder and the people around them and have substantial economic impact. Psychotropic drugs are the treatment option most often proposed to patients presenting with moderate mental health disorders. Psychotherapy is nevertheless a treatment that should be given consideration.Physical and financial access to psychotherapy remains limited because only one third of professionals qualified to offer it practise in the public sector, and the coverage and reimbursement policy for this service is very restricted. In order to improve such coverage, the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux (MSSS) mandated the Institut national d'excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS) to assess the evidence on the effectiveness of psychotherapy compared with those of pharmacotherapy for the treatment of adults with anxiety and depressive disorders.Methods An update of a review of recent and good quality literature was conducted through a review of systematic reviews dealing with psychotherapy compared to pharmacotherapy in the treatment of anxiety and depression in adults. The period covered included 2009 to 2013. The literature search strategy, modelled on that of the reference review, was applied to Medline, Cochrane Library, CINAHL, Web of Science and health technology assessment agencies. Exploration of the grey literature focused on information available on the websites of various health assessment organizations.Results The level of scientific evidence overall was judged to be of moderate to high quality. In general, the data showed no significant difference between psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy in terms of symptoms reduction in patients with moderate anxiety or depressive disorders, indicating comparable effectiveness of these two modes of treatment. However, the benefits of psychotherapy lasted longer after the end of treatment than those of medication. Psychotherapy therefore offers better protection against relapse. Furthermore, the combination of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy is more effective than psychotherapy alone in severe or chronic cases.Conclusion Psychotherapy appears to be as effective as pharmacotherapy in the treatment of adult patients with moderate anxiety and/or depressive disorders. Moreover, the beneficial effects of psychotherapy last longer after the end of treatment with a lower likelihood of relapse.

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