Major Grant Supports Study of Therapy for Women with Depression

September 26, 2007

A University of Rochester Medical Center psychologist has received a $2.19 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health that will fund a study of the effectiveness of Interpersonal Psychotherapy in the treatment of women with depression and a history of childhood sexual abuse.

The five-year study is specifically designed to test the therapy in a community health center where women from disparate socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds receive care.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy focuses on conflicts with family or friends, grief and loss, changes in social roles and other major issues.

“Interpersonal Psychotherapy is a proven treatment for depression,” said Nancy Talbot, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator and an associate professor of psychiatry at the Medical Center. “We will be examining its benefits in a real-world clinical setting with women who have diverse ethnic backgrounds and face multiple social and economic challenges.”

The study addresses a significant problem in the Rochester area and across the country. A screening of more than 1,000 women who sought treatment at the Department of Psychiatry’s Adult Ambulatory Service at the Medical Center showed that about 20 percent were depressed and had a history of childhood sexual abuse. Many women had suffered multiple interpersonal traumas in their lifetimes.

“Unfortunately, abuse and trauma are not uncommon and people who experience it are more likely to be depressed. This is not a small group of people and the mental health care need is very great,” Talbot said.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy is a focused talk therapy for individuals that is limited in time, usually with a set number of weekly one-hour sessions.

“We want to help women figure out where the key problems and difficulties are in their personal lives and how they are related to their mood or their depression,” Talbot said. 

The study will be conducted at the Adult Ambulatory Service at the Medical Center. About 180 women are expected to take part. Each woman will be assigned a therapist and receive treatment. Medications could be a part of the treatment, but are not required. The effectiveness of Interpersonal Psychotherapy will be compared to other therapies.

After treatment, the women will be assessed every six months for two years.

“We will be able to see if the improvements in mood and interpersonal functioning achieved during treatment persist,” Talbot said. “If there is a relapse, is there a way we can predict who is vulnerable? Are women with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, more vulnerable to relapse?”

Many women with major depression and a history of childhood sexual abuse have multiple mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, substance abuse or other conditions.

“Our overall goal is to discover stronger, better therapies for women with depression and a history of trauma,” Talbot said.

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