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CBT in Primary Care Can Help Depressed Teens

CBT in Primary Care Can Help Depressed Teens

When depressed teens receive cognitive-behavioral therapy in a primary care clinic, they recover better and faster that teens who do not receive the primary care-based counseling. A new study is the first to look at the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy in primary care for teenagers not taking antidepressants.

Moving care for depression into primary care clinics has been a goal of health reform as experts believe providing mental health services as a component of primary care will improve outcomes. Primary care providers, such as pediatricians, are often the first to identify depression in teens, but until recently, they have had few tools to treat teens.

Prior strategies include asking primary care providers to prescribe antidepressants, and make referrals to mental health professionals, but teens often decline medications or stop taking them before they can have an effect.

Teens may also be reluctant to follow up on referrals to mental health and it may take some time before they can get in for an appointment.

The new study examined a five to nine week program where counselors used traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to help teen’s challenge unhelpful or depressive thinking, and replace those beliefs with more realistic, positive thoughts.

The program also helped youth create a personalized plan to increase pleasant activities, especially social activities.

The CBT program was successful in helping teens recover faster from depression.

On average, teens in the program recovered seven weeks faster (22.6 weeks vs. 30 weeks) than teens who didn’t participate in the program. After six months, 70-percent of teens in the program had recovered, compared to 43 percent of teens not in the program.

“This study shows that youth who refuse antidepressants can still be successfully treated in primary care using cognitive behavioral therapy,” said Greg Clarke, Ph.D., lead author and depression researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore.

“We know from previous studies that when kids aren’t depressed, they do better in school, are less likely to have sleep and substance abuse problems, and ultimately graduate high school more often,” added Clarke.

The research took place from 2006 to 2012 in Kaiser Permanente primary care clinics in Washington and Oregon. Clarke and his colleagues enrolled 212 teens, ages 12 to 18, who were diagnosed with major depression and either refused an antidepressant prescription or initially filled the prescription, but did not seek refills.

The teenagers were randomized to receive standard care plus cognitive-behavioral therapy in primary care or standard care only, which could have included therapy from Kaiser Permanente’s mental health department as well as outside therapy or school counseling.

Researchers followed the teenagers for two years and had them fill out surveys seven times during that period. By the end of the two-year study, 89 percent of teenagers who received primary care counseling had recovered, compared to 79 percent in the standard care group.

Recovery is defined as having no or minimal symptoms of depression for eight weeks or more. These symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, losing interest in friends and activities, changes in sleep and appetite patterns, trouble concentrating, and feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt.

Participants in both groups used about the same amount of health care services, except that significantly more teenagers in the standard care group were hospitalized for psychiatric care.

Source: Kaiser-Permanente
Teenager discussing depression photo by shutterstock.

CBT in Primary Care Can Help Depressed Teens

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). CBT in Primary Care Can Help Depressed Teens. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 21 Apr 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.