A randomised controlled trial to evaluate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of counselling patients with chronic depression

Simpson S, Corney R, Fitzgerald P, Beecham J
Record ID 32001000005
Authors' objectives:

To examine the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of short-term counselling in general practice for patients with chronic depression or combined depression and anxiety, compared with general practitioner (GP) care alone.

Authors' results and conclusions: The trial recruited 181 patients. There was an overall significant improvement in the actual scores over time but no difference between groups or between CBT and psychodynamic counselling approaches at either 6 or 12 months. However, fewer experimental group patients were still cases on the BDI than controls. This difference was statistically significant at 12 months and neared significance at 6 months (using logistic regression with the initial score as a covariate). In addition, most patients were very positive about the counselling and considered it helpful. Visual inspection of the outcomes suggested that more patients with mild or moderate depression at study entry had improved and ceased to be cases, and that more of these patients had become on-cases in the experimental than the control group. However, a multiple regression analysis indicated no significant interactions between group and initial severity of depression. This could be partly due to there being no difference in outcome between the experimental and control group patients who were initially severely depressed and few of these patients ceasing to be cases at follow-up. There were no significant differences in the mean total costs, aggregate costs of services, or any of the service-group costs, except for primary care, between the experimental and control groups over time. The cost-burden to GP practices was significantly higher in the experimental than the control group at 6 months.
Authors' recommendations: Although patients were generally appreciative of the counselling received, there was only limited evidence of improved outcomes in those referred to counselling. Stricter referral criteria to exclude the severely depressed may have yielded more conclusive results. It is also difficult to estimate the effect of recruitment by screening rather than GP referral, which may limit the applicability of the results to routine clinical practice, and may have interfered with the normal working alliance established between the GP, patient and counsellor. A patient preference trial may, therefore, have been more appropriate. The results indicated that there were similar improvements for both CBT and psychodynamic counselling, but a larger population may have shown different results. The same results between experimental and control groups were found when analyses were conducted on those referred to the psychodynamic counsellors only. The lack of improvement in the initially severely depressed patients may have been due to the chronicity of their problems, and investigation into treatment for these patients remains important The therapy in this study tended to be short term, which is typical of most general practice counselling, but longer-term and more intensive therapy might possibly result in added benefits above GP care for the more severely depressed. It might be advisable to conduct a further trial of counselling in mildly depressed patients to investigate whether the findings of this study are confirmed. In the meantime, patients in this study are being followed up for 3 years to examine the long-term outcomes and between-group differences.
Authors' methods: Randomised controlled trial
Project Status: Completed
URL for project: http://www.hta.ac.uk/885
Year Published: 2000
English language abstract: An English language summary is available
Publication Type: Not Assigned
Country: England, United Kingdom
MeSH Terms
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Counseling
  • Depression
  • Physicians, Family
  • Primary Health Care
Organisation Name: NIHR Health Technology Assessment programme
Contact Address: NIHR Journals Library, National Institute for Health and Care Research, Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre, Alpha House, University of Southampton Science Park, Southampton SO16 7NS, UK
Contact Name: journals.library@nihr.ac.uk
Contact Email: journals.library@nihr.ac.uk
Copyright: 2009 Queen's Printer and Controller of HMSO
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