A component analysis of cognitive-behavioral treatment for depression

J Consult Clin Psychol. 1996 Apr;64(2):295-304. doi: 10.1037//0022-006x.64.2.295.


The purpose of this study was to provide an experimental test of the theory of change put forth by A. T. Beck, A. J. Rush, B. F. Shaw, and G. Emery (1979) to explain the efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CT) for depression. The comparison involved randomly assigning 150 outpatients with major depression to a treatment focused exclusively on the behavioral activation (BA) component of CT, a treatment that included both BA and the teaching of skills to modify automatic thoughts (AT), but excluding the components of CT focused on core schema, or the full CT treatment. Four experienced cognitive therapists conducted all treatments. Despite excellent adherence to treatment protocols by the therapists, a clear bias favoring CT, and the competent performance of CT, there was no evidence that the complete treatment produced better outcomes, at either the termination of acute treatment or the 6-month follow-up, than either component treatment. Furthermore, both BA and AT treatments were just as effective as CT at altering negative thinking as well as dysfunctional attributional styles. Finally, attributional style was highly predictive of both short- and long-term outcomes in the BA condition, but not in the CT condition.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychological Tests
  • Treatment Outcome