Psychosocial Functioning As Catalyst for Symptom Reduction in Depression

One form of treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD) is acute phase cognitive therapy (CT), which typically lasts for 12 weeks. MDD occurs in nearly 16% of Americans and is characterized by depressive symptoms and a decline in psychosocial functioning, which can severely impair one’s ability to work. The inability to function costs the American economy approximately $50 billion a year, and yet psychosocial functioning treatment outcomes have not been explored thoroughly. It is well known that having diminished psychosocial functioning abilities increases depressive symptoms. For instance, people who are not able to work or communicate well with family or friends may feel more isolated and worthless. This dynamic can lead to poor treatment response and even relapse. Although changes in symptom severity have been studied exhaustively in the past, a recent study led by T.W. Dunn of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, is among the first to look specifically at the trajectory of psychosocial functioning during acute phase CT for MDD.

Dunn examined the levels of symptom severity and psychosocial functioning in 523 individuals who were undergoing acute phase CT. The participants were evaluated four times during the course of their 12-week treatment. Dunn discovered that similar to previous studies, the clients did exhibit a decrease in symptom severity. But this decrease did not predict an increase in psychosocial functioning. Instead, the findings revealed that increases in psychosocial functioning, as a result of behavioral therapy, predicted a decrease in depressive symptoms. The participants who showed improved functioning in social domains, such as re-engaging in social activities or limiting avoidant behaviors, were actually less depressed. Dunn believes that the findings of this study support the theory that behavior transformation through social engagement during acute MDD can have a significant positive impact on depressive symptoms. Dunn added, “Although researchers need to clarify how psychosocial functioning changes during acute-phase treatment, the current study suggests that early efforts by CT therapists to change depressed patients’ behavior are well warranted.”

Dunn, T. W., Vittengl, J. R., Clark, L. A., Thase, M. E., Jarrett, R. B. Change in Psychosocial Functioning and Depressive Symptoms during Acute-phase Cognitive Therapy for Depression. Psychological Medicine 42.2 (2012): 317-26. Print.

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  • Robert


    March 5th, 2012 at 4:26 PM

    Sometimes it kind of feels like we give up on the therapy too quickly and resort to medications and this is not the most effective journey to get full resolution of their issues.

  • London Psychotherapist

    London Psychotherapist

    March 5th, 2012 at 4:46 PM

    What about Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)?

  • Cheryl


    March 5th, 2012 at 5:28 PM

    Yes! Getting back out there and feeling involved with a social group can work wonders in helping you to heal from depression. It is a struggle, I know that, to interact with other people when you are down and depressed and feeling so bad in general. But if you can just make that small effort, even in tiny little bits, it can go such a long way toward helping you feel like yourself again. Being depressed is no fun- I think that many of us who gravitate to this site understand that on a very personal level. But it is not something that has to last forever, and using some of your social skills, no matter how difficult that can be, can go a long way toward giving you your smiles again.

  • lou


    March 5th, 2012 at 11:51 PM

    “Dunn discovered that similar to previous studies, the clients did exhibit a decrease in symptom severity. But this decrease did not predict an increase in psychosocial functioning.”

    Well it may not increase psychosocial functioning but decrease in symptoms is a great development and will eventually lead to increase in psychosocial functioning no doubt.

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