Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Can Help Depressed Patients Where Other Treatments Fail

I work with many people struggling with depression and anxiety. As many of my patients can attest, although there are no quick answers or cookie-cutter solutions, with our joint commitment to delve deeply into the causes of their depression in order to seek true remedies and promote lasting change, they often feel better, less depressed and anxious, through the course of our work. The kind of psychotherapy that I practice is called psychoanalytic psychotherapy. It is an approach that involves the whole person, a person’s history, emotions, fantasies and dreams, and is not focused simply on symptom relief. And now, a world-renown research institute based in England has published a study showing empirical evidence of the effectiveness of this type of psychotherapy as compared to others (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and antidepressant medication alone) in the treatment of severe depression.

I’ll quote from the announcement that the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust made in October, 2015:

A ground-breaking research study conducted by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and published in the October issue of World Psychiatry is providing important evidence of the efficacy of long term psychoanalytic psychotherapy (LTPP) for NHS patients suffering from chronic depression.

The Tavistock Adult Depression Study (TADS) is the first randomized controlled trial in the NHS to establish if this type of psychotherapy can provide relief for those not helped by the treatments currently provided: antidepressants, short-term courses of counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy. Crucially, the study, which started over 10 years ago, followed participants for two-years post-intervention to look at long-term therapeutic effects. It found nearly half of patients still saw major improvements two years after therapy had ended.

The Tavistock Adult Depression Study found that:

  • 44% of the patients who were given 18 months of weekly psychoanalytic psychotherapy no longer have major depressive disorder when followed up two years after therapy had ended; for those receiving the NHS treatments currently provided the figure was only 10%.
  • Whilst just 14% of those receiving the psychoanalytic psychotherapy had recovered completely, full recovery occurred in only 4% of those receiving the treatments currently employed.
  • In every 6-months period of the trial’s exceptional 3 ½ years of observation of participants, the chances of going into partial remission for those receiving psychoanalytic psychotherapy were 40% higher than for those who were receiving the usual treatments.
  • After two years of follow-up, depressive symptoms had partially remitted in 30% of those receiving the psychoanalytic therapy; in the control condition this figure was again only 4%.
  • Those receiving the psychoanalytic psychotherapy also saw significantly more benefits to their quality of life, general wellbeing and social and personal functioning.

TADS Clinical Director, Dr David Taylor, from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust said:

“These findings point to the value of a whole person approach in patients who have complex or persistent problems with depression. Longer-term psychoanalytic psychotherapy involves the shared commitment of patient and therapist to understanding emotionally painful parts of a depressed person’s life. This may activate a beneficial process of psychological growth with a lasting gain in resilience. This can occur even in those who have had their disorder for many years, have not responded to other treatments and who previously may not have been thought to benefit from psychoanalytic psychotherapy.”

This study, providing empirically based evidence, supports what my patients and I know. Depression is a serious and complex condition; there are no quick fixes. However, through a persistent approach with the commitment of both the patient and therapist, true change can occur. When that happens, when patients I’m working with begin not just to feel a decrease in symptoms, but to experience a vast improvement in their lives, real vitality and joy returning to their lives, I am deeply gratified to be doing this work. While I have not provided this information to tarnish the reputation of any other treatment, it is heartening to know that science has substantiated what I know to be true from experience about the usefulness of the kind of psychotherapy I practice.

Click here for the study’s written report.

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