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Psychotherapy Helps -- Even When It's Not All in Your Head

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More than a decade ago, Spiegel published a small study showing that cancer patients who participated in group psychotherapy survived longer than those who did not. Most studies since then support these findings, although some do not. Spiegel is now completing a larger study.

Other conference presentations showed that even when there are effective drug treatments for an illness, adding psychological treatments can give better results.

  • Severe tension headache. A study led by Lehigh University researcher Kenneth A. Holroyd, PhD, shows that therapy to improve stress management works as well as taking antidepressant medicine to relieve severe headache. Combining psychological treatment with drug treatment was more effective than either treatment by itself.
  • Obesity. A study by Brown University researcher Suzanne Phelan, PhD, shows that people getting therapy to help them modify eating behavior plus taking an appetite-suppressing drug lose more weight than those getting either treatment by itself.
  • Quitting smoking. Brown University researcher Raymond Niaura, PhD, analyzed a number of studies of behavioral therapies aimed at helping people quit smoking. These treatments -- when used in combination with nicotine patches or nicotine gum -- were twice as effective as nicotine replacement alone.

One study, however, found that adding psychological treatment to their normal medicines did not significantly improve the treatment of depression in people with heart disease.

"Right now if a depressed patient with heart disease comes into a doctor's office, combination therapy should not be advised," says Rutgers University researcher Michael A. Friedman, PhD. "However, combination therapy may be useful for patients with more severe or chronic cases of depression."

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