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Couple therapy for depression

Overview of attention for article published in Cochrane database of systematic reviews, June 2018
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Couple therapy for depression
Published in
Cochrane database of systematic reviews, June 2018
DOI 10.1002/14651858.cd004188.pub3
Pubmed ID

Angelo Barbato, Barbara D'Avanzo, Alberto Parabiaghi


Couple therapy for depression has the twofold aim of modifying negative interaction patterns and increasing mutually supportive aspects of intimate relationships, changing the interpersonal context of depression. Couple therapy is included in several guidelines among the suggested treatments for depression. 1. The main objective was to examine the effects of couple therapy compared to individual psychotherapy for depression.2. Secondary objectives were to examine the effects of couple therapy compared to drug therapy and no/minimal treatment for depression. The Cochrane Common Mental Disorders Group Controlled Trials Register (CCMDCTR), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE (Ovid), Embase (Ovid) and PsycINFO (Ovid) were searched to 19 February 2018. Relevant journals and reference lists were checked. Randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials examining the effects of couple therapy versus individual psychotherapy, drug therapy, or no treatment/minimal treatment for depression were included in the review. We considered as primary outcomes the depressive symptom level, the depression persistence, and the dropouts; the relationship distress level was a secondary outcome. We extracted data using a standardised spreadsheet. Where data were not included in published papers, we tried to obtain the data from the authors. We synthesised data using Review Manager software version 5.3. We pooled dichotomous data using the relative risk (RR), and continuous data calculating the standardised mean difference (SMD), together with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). We employed the random-effects model for all comparisons and also calculated a formal test for heterogeneity, the natural approximate Chi2 test. We included fourteen studies from Europe, North America, and Israel, with 651 participants. Eighty per cent of participants were Caucasian. Therefore, the findings cannot be considered as applicable to non-Western countries or to other ethnic groups in Western countries. On average, participants had moderate depression, preventing the extension of results to severely depressed patients. Almost all participants were aged between 36 and 47 years.There was no evidence of difference in effect at the end of treatment between couple therapy and individual psychotherapy, either for the continuous outcome of depressive symptoms, based on nine studies with 304 participants (SMD -0.17, 95% CI -0.44 to 0.10, low-quality evidence), or the proportion of participants remaining depressed, based on six studies with 237 participants (RR 0.94, 95% CI 0.72 to 1.22, low-quality evidence). Findings from studies with 6-month or longer follow-up confirmed the lack of difference between the two conditions.No trial gave information on harmful effects. However, we considered rates of treatment discontinuation for any reason as a proxy indicator of adverse outcomes. There was no evidence of difference for dropout rates between couple therapy and individual psychotherapy, based on eight studies with 316 participants (RR 0.85, 95% CI 0.51 to 1.41, low-quality evidence).Few data were available for the comparison with drug therapy. Data from a small study with 12 participants showed no difference for the continuous outcome of depressive symptoms at end of treatment (SMD -0.51, 95% CI -1.69 to 0.66, very low-quality evidence) and at 6-month follow-up (SMD -1.07, 95% CI -2.45 to 0.31, very low-quality evidence). Data on dropouts from two studies with 95 participants showed a clear advantage for couple therapy (RR 0.31, 95% CI 0.15 to 0.61, very low-quality evidence). However, this finding was heavily influenced by a single study, probably affected by a selection bias favouring couple therapy.The comparison between couple therapy plus drug therapy and drug therapy alone showed no difference in depressive symptom level, based on two studies with 34 participants (SMD -1.04, 95% CI -3.97 to 1.89, very low-quality evidence) and on dropouts, based on two studies with 45 participants (RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.07 to 15.52, very low-quality evidence).The comparison with no/minimal treatment showed a large significant effect favouring couple therapy both for depressive symptom level, based on three studies with 90 participants: (SMD -0.95, 95% CI -1.59 to -0.32, very low-quality evidence) and persistence of depression, based on two studies with 65 participants (RR 0.48, 95% CI 0.32 to 0.70, very low-quality evidence). No data were available for dropouts for this comparison.Concerning relationship distress, the comparison with individual psychotherapy showed that couple therapy appeared more effective in reducing distress level at the end of treatment, based on six studies with 187 participants (SMD -0.50, CI -0.97 to -0.02, very low-quality evidence) and the persistence of distress, based on two studies with 81 participants (RR 0.71, 95% CI 0.51 to 0.98, very low-quality evidence). The quality of evidence was heavily affected by substantial heterogeneity (I2 = 59%). In the analysis restricted to studies including only distressed couples, no heterogeneity was found and the effect in distress level at the end of treatment was larger (SMD -1.10, 95% CI -1.59 to -0.61). Very few data on this outcome were available for other comparisons.We assessed the certainty of the evidence using the GRADE system. The results were weakened by the low quality of evidence related to the effects on depressive symptoms, in comparison with individual psychotherapy, and by very low quality evidence for all other comparisons and for the effects on relationship distress. Most studies were affected by problems such as the small number of cases, performance bias, assessment bias due to the non-blinding outcome assessment, incomplete outcome reporting and the allegiance bias of investigators. Heterogeneity was, in particular, a problem for data about relationship distress. Although there is suggestion that couple therapy is as effective as individual psychotherapy in improving depressive symptoms and more effective in improving relations in distressed couples, the low or very low quality of the evidence seriously limits the possibility of drawing firm conclusions. Very few data were available for comparisons with no/minimal treatment and drug therapy. Future trials of high quality should test in large samples with a long follow-up of the effects of couple therapy in comparison to other interventions in discordant couples with a depressed partner, considering the role of relationship quality as a potential effect mediator in the improvement of depression.

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Mendeley readers

Mendeley readers

The data shown below were compiled from readership statistics for 258 Mendeley readers of this research output. Click here to see the associated Mendeley record.

Geographical breakdown

Country Count As %
Unknown 258 100%

Demographic breakdown

Readers by professional status Count As %
Student > Bachelor 37 14%
Student > Master 33 13%
Student > Ph. D. Student 26 10%
Researcher 24 9%
Student > Doctoral Student 14 5%
Other 42 16%
Unknown 82 32%
Readers by discipline Count As %
Psychology 46 18%
Medicine and Dentistry 39 15%
Nursing and Health Professions 26 10%
Social Sciences 16 6%
Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutical Science 8 3%
Other 29 11%
Unknown 94 36%
Attention Score in Context

Attention Score in Context

This research output has an Altmetric Attention Score of 15. This is our high-level measure of the quality and quantity of online attention that it has received. This Attention Score, as well as the ranking and number of research outputs shown below, was calculated when the research output was last mentioned on 21 April 2022.
All research outputs
of 25,461,852 outputs
Outputs from Cochrane database of systematic reviews
of 12,090 outputs
Outputs of similar age
of 342,396 outputs
Outputs of similar age from Cochrane database of systematic reviews
of 156 outputs
Altmetric has tracked 25,461,852 research outputs across all sources so far. Compared to these this one has done particularly well and is in the 90th percentile: it's in the top 10% of all research outputs ever tracked by Altmetric.
So far Altmetric has tracked 12,090 research outputs from this source. They typically receive a lot more attention than average, with a mean Attention Score of 38.2. This one has gotten more attention than average, scoring higher than 61% of its peers.
Older research outputs will score higher simply because they've had more time to accumulate mentions. To account for age we can compare this Altmetric Attention Score to the 342,396 tracked outputs that were published within six weeks on either side of this one in any source. This one has done well, scoring higher than 85% of its contemporaries.
We're also able to compare this research output to 156 others from the same source and published within six weeks on either side of this one. This one is in the 41st percentile – i.e., 41% of its contemporaries scored the same or lower than it.