Background: We compared the efficacy of and patients' satisfaction with general-practice-based psychotherapists with those of general practitioners in providing treatment to people with emotional difficulties.
Methods: We carried out a prospective, randomised, controlled trial of brief, non-directive psychotherapy and routine general-practice care. Therapists adhered to a non-directive Rogerian model of psychotherapy. Between one and 12 sessions of psychotherapy were given over 12 weeks in 14 general practices in north London, UK. Of 136 patients with emotional difficulties, mainly depression, 70 patients were randomly assigned to the therapist and 66 to the general practitioner. Depression, anxiety, other mental-disorder symptoms, and social adjustment were measured by self-report at baseline, 3 months, and 9 months. Patients' satisfaction was also measured by self-report at 3 and 9 months.
Findings: All patients improved significantly over time. There were no significant differences between the groups receiving brief psychotherapy and routine general-practitioner care. Patients assigned brief psychotherapy were more satisfied with the help they received than those assigned to the general practitioner at both 3 and 9 months' follow-up (mean scores on satisfaction scale 50.9 [SD 7.9] vs 44.4 [9.8] and 45.6 [9.4] vs 37.1 [11.2], respectively).
Interpretation: General-practitioner care is as effective as brief psychotherapy for patients usually referred by doctors to practice-based psychotherapists. Patients with emotional difficulties prefer brief psychotherapy from a counsellor to care from their general practitioner.