Does illness attribution affect treatment assignment in depression?

S. Schweizer*, F. Peeters, M.J.H. Huibers, J. Roelofs, J. van Os, A.R. Arntz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Web of Science)


Objective: Little is known about depressed individuals' illness attributions and how these influence treatment assignment in clinical practice. The aim of the present study was to examine whether illness attribution across the domains of intraindividual, interpersonal and biological reasons was associated with treatment assignment in a naturalistic treatment setting.

Method: Illness attribution was assessed with the Reasons for Depression Questionnaire in 221 depressed individuals. Participants were assigned to either cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT) or psychopharmacological treatment (PHT).

Results: Depressed individuals who strongly attributed their illness to intraindividual factors were more likely to be assigned to CBT, and depressed individuals attributing their depression to biological reasons were more likely to receive in PHT. In contrast, interpersonal illness attribution was not associated with treatment assignment.

Conclusions: Illness attribution influences treatment assignment to CBT and PHT. However, factors other than illness attribution for depression affect a treatment choice of IPT. Copyright (C) 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Key Practitioner Message:

Intraindividual and biological illness attributions affected depressed individuals' treatment assignment, making these individuals more likely to receive CBT and PHT, respectively.

Interpersonal illness attribution was not found to be associated with treatment assignment.

There were significant gender differences in illness attribution. Men were more likely to endorse in achievement-related causes, and women attributed their depressive illnesses to more interpersonal reasons (i.e., relationship, childhood and intimacy).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)418-426
Number of pages9
JournalClinical Psychology & Psychotherapy
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010


  • Treatment Choice/Preference
  • Depression
  • Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy
  • Interpersonal Therapy
  • Psychopharmacological Therapy

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