Psychotherapy or medication for depression? Using individual symptom meta-analyses to derive a Symptom-Oriented Therapy (SOrT) metric for a personalised psychiatry

Nils Kappelmann, Martin Rein, Julia Fietz, Helen S. Mayberg, W. Edward Craighead, Boadie W. Dunlop, Charles B. Nemeroff, Martin Keller, Daniel N. Klein, Bruce A. Arnow, Nusrat Husain, Robin B. Jarrett, Jeffrey R. Vittengl, Marco Menchetti, Gordon Parker, Jacques P. Barber, Andre G. Bastos, Jack Dekker, Jaap Peen, Martin E. KeckJohannes Kopf-Beck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: Antidepressant medication (ADM) and psychotherapy are effective treatments for major depressive disorder (MDD). It is unclear, however, if treatments differ in their effectiveness at the symptom level and whether symptom information can be utilised to inform treatment allocation. The present study synthesises comparative effectiveness information from randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of ADM versus psychotherapy for MDD at the symptom level and develops and tests the Symptom-Oriented Therapy (SOrT) metric for precision treatment allocation. Methods: First, we conducted systematic review and meta-analyses of RCTs comparing ADM and psychotherapy at the individual symptom level. We searched PubMed Medline, PsycINFO, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials databases, a database specific for psychotherapy RCTs, and looked for unpublished RCTs. Random-effects meta-analyses were applied on sum-scores and for individual symptoms for the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D) and Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) measures. Second, we computed the SOrT metric, which combines meta-analytic effect sizes with patients' symptom profiles. The SOrT metric was evaluated using data from the Munich Antidepressant Response Signature (MARS) study (n = 407) and the Emory Predictors of Remission in Depression to Individual and Combined Treatments (PReDICT) study (n = 234). Results: The systematic review identified 38 RCTs for qualitative inclusion, 27 and 19 for quantitative inclusion at the sum-score level, and 9 and 4 for quantitative inclusion on individual symptom level for the HAM-D and BDI, respectively. Neither meta-analytic strategy revealed significant differences in the effectiveness of ADM and psychotherapy across the two depression measures. The SOrT metric did not show meaningful associations with other clinical variables in the MARS sample, and there was no indication of utility of the metric for better treatment allocation from PReDICT data. Conclusions: This registered report showed no differences of ADM and psychotherapy for the treatment of MDD at sum-score and symptom levels. Symptom-based metrics such as the proposed SOrT metric do not inform allocation to these treatments, but predictive value of symptom information requires further testing for other treatment comparisons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number170
JournalBMC medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 5 2020


  • Antidepressant medication
  • Depression symptoms
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Meta-analysis
  • Precision psychiatry
  • Psychotherapy
  • Symptom-oriented therapy metric
  • Systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Psychotherapy or medication for depression? Using individual symptom meta-analyses to derive a Symptom-Oriented Therapy (SOrT) metric for a personalised psychiatry'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this