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See Inside October/November 2007

The Best Medicine?

How drugs stack up against talk therapy for the treatment of depression

IMAGINE a treatment for depression that possesses the following properties: It is as effective as antidepressant medications but lacks their side effects. Its therapeutic results last longer than those of antidepressant medications after treatment has ended. Its benefits generalize to many domains of life. It causes changes in the brain in processes associated with depression. It usually needs to be administered only once a week. It generally costs the same or less than medications. Sound too good to be true? In fact, such a treatment has been around for decades, although many people do not know about it. It is called psychotherapy.

Why are so many people unaware of these facts? One reason is that pharmaceutical companies have huge advertising budgets to aggressively market antidepressant medications to the public and to the physicians who write prescriptions. In contrast, psychotherapists have little or no budget for marketing. In this column, we will try to level the playing field by providing a scorecard of how antidepressants compare with psychotherapies.

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