Talk Therapy and Medication Are Equally Effective for Treating Depression, New Study Finds

You may no longer need to pop a pill to find relief.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
March 6, 2020

If you’re one of the approximately 16 million Americans who live with depression, you may have tried talk therapy, medication, or a combination of both to treat the condition. While people have had success using both methods, is one more effective than the other in the long run? According to new research out of the University of Michigan, after five years of treatment, talk therapy and medication appear to be equally as effective for people living with depression

Part of the aim of the study, which was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, was to determine whether one treatment was more cost-effective than the other in order to help guide insurance policies. Given the large cost discrepancy between an hour of talk therapy once a week and popping a generic antidepressant pill each day, the researchers sought to find out if one approach provided a better overall economic value.

Ultimately, they determined that people who have been newly diagnosed with depression should try cognitive behavioral therapy, either individually or with a group, if they’d prefer to avoid medication as their first type of treatment. And while that’s great in theory, it would require some major changes in the American healthcare system in order to provide more affordable and accessible psychotherapy. On that note, the authors argue that by making CBT more available, companies and government agencies who cover depression care could save money in the long run.


“One might assume that antidepressants are more cost-effective than psychotherapy, because they don’t require travel time, time away from work, and as many contacts with providers as therapy does,” first author of the study Eric L. Ross, M.D., a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, and McLean Hospital, said in a statement. “But when incorporating the long-term effectiveness of each treatment, we found that neither treatment is consistently superior to the other.”

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticRolling StoneCNNFodor’sLifehackerReader’s Digest and Playboy.

Outlier Disclaimer

This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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