Marital therapy for depression.

A. Barbato, B. D'Avanzo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Marital therapy for depression has the two-fold aim of modifying negative interaction patterns and increasing mutually supportive aspects of couple relationships, thus changing the interpersonal context linked to depression. OBJECTIVES: 1. To conduct a meta-analysis of all intervention studies comparing marital therapy to other psychosocial and pharmacological treatments, or to non-active treatments. 2. To conduct an assessment of the internal validity and external validity. 3. To assess the overall effectiveness of marital therapy as a treatment for depression. 4. To identify mediating variables through which marital therapy is effective in depression treatment. SEARCH STRATEGY: CCDANCTR-Studies was searched on 5-9-2005, Relevant journals and reference lists were checked. SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials examining the effectiveness of marital therapy versus individual psychotherapy, drug therapy or waiting list/no treatment/minimal treatment for depression were included in the review. Quasi-randomised controlled trials were also included. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Data were extracted using a standardised spreadsheet. Where data were not included in published papers, two attempts were made to obtain the data from the authors. Data were synthesised using Review Manager software. Dichotomous data were pooled using the relative risk (RR), and continuous data were pooled using the standardised mean difference (SMD), and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated. The random effects model was employed for all comparisons. A formal test for heterogeneity, the natural approximate chi-squared test, was also calculated. MAIN RESULTS: Eight studies were included in the review. No significant difference in effect was found between marital therapy and individual psychotherapy, either for the continuous outcome of depressive symptoms, based on six studies: SMD -0.12 (95% CI -0.56 to 0.32), or the dichotomous outcome of proportion of subjects remaining at caseness level, based on three studies: RR 0.84 (95% CI 0.32 to 2.22). In comparison with drug therapy, a lower drop-out rate was found for marital therapy: RR 0.31 (95% CI 0.15 to 0.61), but this result was greatly influenced by a single study. The comparison with no/minimal treatment, showed a large significant effect in favour of marital therapy for depressive symptoms, based on two studies: SMD -1.28 (95% CI -1.85 to -0.72) and a smaller significant effect for persistence of depression, based on one study only. The findings were weakened by methodological problems affecting most studies, such as the small number of cases available for analysis in almost all comparisons, and the significant heterogeneity among studies. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There is no evidence to suggest that marital therapy is more or less effective than individual psychotherapy or drug therapy in the treatment of depression. Improvement of relations in distressed couples might be expected from marital therapy. Future trials should test whether marital therapy is superior to other interventions for distressed couples with a depressed partner, especially considering the role of potential effect moderators in the improvement of depression.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Cochrane database of systematic reviews
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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