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Interpersonal Psychotherapy and Antidepressant Medication: Evaluation of a Sequential Treatment Strategy in Women With Recurrent Major Depression

J Clin Psychiatry 2000;61:51-57

Background: Few data are available to guide treatment selection in major depression. With increasing pressure to maximize the efficiency and minimize the costs of treatment, it is important to have information that could guide treatment selection or point to treatment strategies that have a high probability of success.

Method: We used a successive cohort approach to compare 2 highly similar groups of women with recurrent unipolar disorder (DSM-III-R or DSM-IV): one in which the combination of interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) and pharmacotherapy was initiated at the outset of treatment and a second in which IPT alone was provided first and only those who did not remit with IPT alone were offered the combination treatment.

Results: In the group in which the combination was initiated at the outset of treatment (N = 180), the remission rate was 66%, comparable to the remission rate observed in most outpatient treatment studies of major depression. In contrast, among the women in the second cohort who were first treated with IPT alone and only those who did not remit were given combination therapy (N = 159), the remission rate was 79%, significantly greater than that observed in the group that received combination treatment from the outset (chi2 = 6.55, p = .02).

Conclusion: These results suggest that the strategy of offering IPT to women with recurrent unipolar disorder and, in the absence of remission, adding antidepressant pharmacotherapy can be a highly effective treatment, one that may be particularly attractive to women in the childbearing years. Although slower in its onset of action, this sequential strategy is likely to enable the clear majority of such women to achieve a full remission of depressive symptoms.