Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Medication increasingly replaces psychotherapy, study finds

Fewer patients are undergoing in-depth treatment as antidepressants and other drugs are more widely used. The shift is attributed partly to insurance reimbursement policies.

Wider use of antidepressants and other prescription medications has reduced the role of psychotherapy, once the defining characteristic of psychiatric care, according to an analysis published today.

The percentage of patients who received psychotherapy fell to 28.9% in 2004-05 from 44.4% in 1996-97, the report in Archives of General Psychiatry said.

Researchers attributed the shift to insurance reimbursement policies that favor short medication visits compared with longer psychotherapy sessions, and to the introduction of a new generation of psychotropic medications with fewer side effects.

Although not a surprise to many psychiatrists, the findings were expected to intensify a debate over the increased medicalization of psychiatric care, which in part reflects an emphasis on the biology of mental illness, as opposed to the processes of the mind.

Psychotherapy is an interpersonal intervention that may involve such things as behavior modification and group discussion. It is recommended -- with or without medication -- for major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and other psychiatric illnesses.


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