What is Depression Costing You?

Depression treatment most cost effective through family therapy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Depression affects 121 million people worldwide; the cost of depression, based on loss of productivity as well as necessary health care, reaches about $83 billion each year. With costs rising, effective and efficient depression treatment options have become an important topic.

A recent study compared the costs and benefits of individual therapy versus family therapy in treating depression and found that family therapy is the more cost-effective choice.

Family therapy patients, on average, spent about half as much as individual therapy patients, and up to a third less than mixed therapy patients.

"Ask a therapist about family therapy."

D. Russell Crane, PhD and LMFT at Brigham Young University, partnered with Jacob Christenson, PhD, of Mount Mercy University and others to study the cost effectiveness of individual therapy and family therapy in the treatment of depression.

Participants were drawn from a large US health care insurer, Cigna. Four years of data was collected on over 160,000 patients with a primary diagnosis of depression.

The researchers looked at whether the patient received individual therapy, family therapy, or mixed therapy which involves some individual sessions and some family sessions.

They also calculated the cost of treatment for each patient, as well as whether or not the patient had to return for more treatment at a later date.

Cost effectiveness was calculated by looking at how much the first round of treatment cost and whether the patient had to come back for a second round, which is called recidivism.

The researchers first found that patients using family therapy went to fewer sessions, and therefore spent less on treatment than in individual or mixed therapy.

However, family therapy patients were 11 percent more likely to return for a second round than individual therapy patients, while mixed therapy patients were 25 percent more likely to have to return.

Also of note, counselors, social workers and marriage and family therapists were comparable in cost, while psychologists were significantly more expensive. Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) had the least number of patients needing to return for a second round of therapy.

“While the authors controlled for patient age and gender, they did not control for marital status, presence of children in the home, or any other family-related variables.

Since the study's intent is to compare family and individual therapy, controlling for family-related variables is important,” dailyRx contributing expert Adam Powell said in response to the study.

Therefore, the study found family therapy to be the most cost-effective choice, but other factors may have been involved.  It is important to talk to a therapist about the appropriateness of family therapy for each patient.

This study was published this year in the Journal of Marital & Family Therapy. No statements of funding or conflicts of interest were made.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 23, 2012
Last Updated:
November 2, 2012