Frequency and change mechanisms of psychotherapy among depressed patients: study protocol for a multicenter randomized trial comparing twice-weekly versus once-weekly sessions of CBT and IPT

Sanne J. E. Bruijniks*, Judith Bosmans, Frenk P. M. L. Peeters, Steven D. Hollon, Patricia van Oppen, Michael van den Boogaard, Pieter Dingemanse, Pim Cuijpers, Arnoud Arntz, Gerdien Franx, Marcus J. H. Huibers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT) are among the most well established therapies for the treatment of depression. However, some major questions remain unanswered. First, it is unknown what session frequency results in the most optimal (cost) effectiveness in psychotherapy. Second, the debate as to what mechanisms underlie the effect of psychotherapy has not yet been resolved. Enhancing knowledge about the optimal session frequency and mechanisms of change seems crucial in order to optimize the (cost) effectiveness of psychotherapy for depression. This study aims to compare treatment outcome of twice-weekly versus once-weekly sessions of CBT and IPT. We expect twice-weekly sessions to be more effective and lead to more rapid recovery of depressive symptoms in comparison to once-weekly sessions. Both therapy-specific and non-specific process measures will be included to unravel the mechanisms of change in psychotherapy for depression. Besides the use of self-reports and behavioral observations, this study will also examine underlying biological processes by collecting blood samples. Method: In a multicenter randomized trial, two hundred depressed patients will be recruited from Dutch specialized mental healthcare centers and randomized into one of the following groups, all receiving a maximum of 20 sessions in different frequencies: a) twice-weekly sessions at the start of CBT, b) twice-weekly sessions at the start of IPT, c) once-weekly sessions at the start of CBT, d) once-weekly sessions at the start of IPT. Primary outcome measures are depression severity, cost-effectiveness and quality of life. Process measures include therapeutic alliance, recall, therapy-specific skills, motivation and compliance. Assessments will take place during baseline, monthly during treatment and follow-up at month 9, 12 and 24. In addition, at 12 and 24 months, the frequency of depressive episodes in the previous year will be assessed. Blood samples will be taken pre- and post-treatment. The study has been ethically approved and registered. Discussion : Finding that twice-weekly sessions are more effective or lead to more rapid recovery of depressive symptoms could lead to treatment adaptations that have the potential to reduce the personal and societal burden of depression. In addition, insight into the mechanisms of change and physiological processes in psychotherapy will enable us to optimize treatments and may help to understand human functioning beyond the context of treatment.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2015


  • Depression
  • Intensity
  • Change mechanisms
  • Psychotherapy
  • Physiology
  • Multicenter randomized controlled trial

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