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Keywords:

  • Psychotherapy;
  • antidepressant medication;
  • depressive disorders;
  • anxiety disorders;
  • dysthymia;
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder;
  • meta-analysis

Although psychotherapy and antidepressant medication are efficacious in the treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders, it is not known whether they are equally efficacious for all types of disorders, and whether all types of psychotherapy and antidepressants are equally efficacious for each disorder. We conducted a meta-analysis of studies in which psychotherapy and antidepressant medication were directly compared in the treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders. Systematic searches in bibliographical databases resulted in 67 randomized trials, including 5,993 patients that met inclusion criteria, 40 studies focusing on depressive disorders and 27 focusing on anxiety disorders. The overall effect size indicating the difference between psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy after treatment in all disorders was g=0.02 (95% CI: −0.07 to 0.10), which was not statistically significant. Pharmacotherapy was significantly more efficacious than psychotherapy in dysthymia (g=0.30), and psychotherapy was significantly more efficacious than pharmacotherapy in obsessive-compulsive disorder (g=0.64). Furthermore, pharmacotherapy was significantly more efficacious than non-directive counseling (g=0.33), and psychotherapy was significantly more efficacious than pharmacotherapy with tricyclic antidepressants (g=0.21). These results remained significant when we controlled for other characteristics of the studies in multivariate meta-regression analysis, except for the differential effects in dysthymia, which were no longer statistically significant.