New Study Examines Effectiveness of Psychotherapy for Depressed Children

Depression can significantly impact one’s ability to function. “Although depressive disorders are often thought of as affecting adults, it is not at all rare to encounter school-age youth with depression or depressive feature,” said Bradley T. Erford of the Education Specialties Department at Loyola University, and lead author of a recent study. “Estimates of the prevalence of depression in school-age youth are approximately 2% to 3% for pre-pubertal children and 5% to 8% for adolescents.” He added that by adulthood, nearly one quarter of all people will have experienced at least one major depressive episode. Because the first line of defense against depression is usually psychotherapy, the effectiveness of this form of treatment for children must be validated. In his study, Erford addressed three specific questions with regards to psychotherapy for depressed children. He wanted to determine if it was an effective option, if the effects were sustainable, and if treatment setting, in or out of school, influenced the outcome.

Using data from 42 clinical trials on children ranging in age from 6 to 17 years, Erford and a team of researchers explored all three of their concerns. They found that in answer to their first question, psychotherapy had been proven to be a highly effective treatment option for depressed children. “A second primary conclusion of the present meta-analysis is that the depression treatments seem to have significant staying power for perhaps up to 2 years,” said Erford. “A third general conclusion from this meta-analysis is that treatments implemented at school are just as effective as treatments conducted in an outpatient setting.” He added, “Thus, counseling and psychotherapy exist as an important treatment approach for depression, just as important as antidepressant medications, many of which have serious, even dangerous, side effects. Counseling and psychotherapy can also be used in concert with medication, given that a combined approach seems most efficacious over the short term.”

Erford, Bradley T., Breann M. Erford, Gina Lattanzi, Janet Weller, Hallie Schein, Emily Wolf, Meredith Hughes, Jenna Darrow, Janet Savin-Murphy, and Elizabeth Peacock. “Counseling Outcomes From 1990 to 2008 for School-Age Youth With Depression: A Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Counseling and Development 89.4 (2011): 439-57. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Hewitt


    October 28th, 2011 at 8:59 PM

    Growing up is not an easy period in life, let me tel you that. There are just so many things that could be considered pressure that happen in a young adult’s life-School,relationships,peer pressure-you get the idea.

    This can quickly turn into a combined problem that can be too hot to handle and the young adult could easily slip into depression. While nothing beats stopping these developments early on,different ways of helping and treating are a boon too.

  • Lana


    October 29th, 2011 at 6:22 AM

    If I was the parent of a depressed child I would much rather try psychotherapy before trying medication. I strongly believe that there are too many times when a little talking things through, especially with young children can help significantly, but we jump the gun too fast and wnat the quick fix. I am not at all certain that I believe that this is always in the best interest of the child. Maybe the parent is pushing for something to happen quickly, or maybe the classroom teacher is. But that is usually about making things easier or better for them and not for the child.

  • GeorgetteLeonard


    October 29th, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    I feel we’re too quick to label children as depressed nowadays. When I was young you never heard of such a thing as a classmate with depression. In fact you rarely heard of it in adults as much as you do now either. Have the guidelines become less stringent from one version of the DSM to another?

  • andy


    October 29th, 2011 at 10:53 PM

    Hi GeorgetteLeonard,
    I don’t think it’s jus the guidelines becoming more stringent than before..We’re basically leading more chaotic & stressful lives than out parents did & the same is going to happen to our children when they compare their lives to ours in the future..

    Jus look around and you’ll see..No more the easy going atmosphere around,everybody’s in a rush to get things done & also the patience levels in people have nose-dived..

  • Felicia Stanton

    Felicia Stanton

    October 30th, 2011 at 12:02 AM

    When you’re depressed it’s hard to get excited about anything. I remember being very low right before my eighteenth birthday. It upset me that everyone was going on about my birthday and what did I want and would I have a party etc etc, as if a couple of lame balloons and streamers would make my world perfect that day.

    I didn’t care what I got and I didn’t want a party. What I wanted was to feel better. People can be so dumb.

  • B.T.B.


    October 30th, 2011 at 12:06 AM

    @Felicia– “What I wanted was to feel better.”

    I’d settle for feeling anything at all, not just feeling better. Until I became depressed myself I thought it was a drama queen’s way of getting attention. I didn’t realize that it created this black hole inside you that all emotions fall into and vanish. I don’t get mad, or happy, or angry, or upset or anything…the only thing I feel is numb.

  • heidi


    October 30th, 2011 at 5:28 AM

    Trying those options in combination with medication looks like that would be the most effective resource

  • Megan Wiley

    Megan Wiley

    October 30th, 2011 at 3:16 PM

    @GeorgetteLeonard: I doubt that it’s the criteria that has altered much from one publication to the next, Georgette. You’re not taking into account the power of the internet.

    It wasn’t so many years ago that nobody could check symptoms of a condition without either going to the dr’s office or spending hours in a library’s reference section, poring over books. Now you can have the information in seconds and visit your dr already forearmed with it.

    The public’s far more well informed because it’s easy to be and convenient to access information, which in turn increases the likelihood of a diagnosis. Few were likely before to take the time to go to a library.

  • Craig


    October 31st, 2011 at 4:13 AM

    If this is one of the most effective treatments for adults then it seems equally probable that this would be a good treatment for children who are experiencing tha same thing. There should be someone who is a little more comfortable and trained to work with children on their specific issues, but the research is there to support that when done correctly and in a way that reaches them, that it would also make sense to offer psychotherapy as a n alternative for children and their families to pursue.

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