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Solving Common Streaming Problems with Sling TV Customer Care

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This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.


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Problem-Solving Treatment and Coping Styles in Primary Care Minor Depression

Thomas e. oxman.

Departments of Psychiatry and of Community and Family Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School

Mark T. Hegel

Department of Psychiatry, Dartmouth Medical School

Jay G. Hull

Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College

Allen J. Dietrich

Departments of Community and Family Medicine and of Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School

Research was undertaken to compare Problem-Solving Treatment for Primary Care (PST-PC) to usual care (UC) for minor depression and examine whether treatment effectiveness was moderated by coping style. PST-PC is a six-session, manual-based, psychosocial skills intervention. A randomized controlled trial was conducted in two academic, primary care clinics. A total of 141 subjects were eligible and randomized, and 107 completed treatment (57 PST-PC, 50 UC) and a 35-week follow-up. Analysis using linear mixed modeling revealed significant effects of treatment and coping such that those in PST-PC improved at a faster rate, and those initially high in avoidant coping were significantly more likely to have sustained benefit from PST-PC.


Minor depression, defined as relatively sustained depressed mood without the full syndrome that characterizes major depressive disorder, is one of the most common types of depressive disorders ( Beekman et al., 1995 ; Blazer, Hughes, & George, 1987 ). This is particularly true in primary care with rates of minor depression as much as four times greater than major depression ( Barrett, Barrett, Oxman, & Gerber, 1988 ; Broadhead, Blazer, George, & Tse, 1990 ; Jaffe, Froom, & Galambos, 1994 ; Williams, Kerber, Mulrow, Medina, & Aguilar, 1995 ). If persons are to be treated for minor depression, it is most likely to occur in the primary care setting ( Barrett et al., 1988 ; Garrard et al., 1998 ; Regier et al., 1993 ).

Despite the high prevalence and associated functional impairment, there is limited evidence that antidepressants are of clinically significant benefit to persons with minor depression ( Goldberg, Privett, Ustun, Simon, & Linden, 1998 ; Guy, Ban, & Schaffer, 1983 ; Linden et al., 1999 ; Paykel, Freeling, & Hollyman, 1988 ) (but see ( Judd et al., 2004 ). Similarly, for people with minor depression, there is limited evidence for the effectiveness of manual driven, structured psychotherapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) ( Cuijpers, van Straten, & Warmerdam, 2007 ; Oxman & Sengupta, 2002 ) or the most widely used psychosocial treatment in primary care, nonspecific “counseling” ( Orleans, George, Houpt, & Brodie, 1985 ; Robinson et al., 1995 ; Spitzer et al., 1995 ).

Problem Solving Treatment for Primary Care

Because minor depression is often a reaction to the multiple stresses and strains of life, coping interventions such as problem solving therapies would seem to be an ideal treatment. In recent meta-analyses, problem solving therapy, was superior to no treatment, treatment as usual, and attention placebo for treating major depressive disorder ( Cuijpers, van Straten et al., 2007 ; Malouff, Thorsteinsson, & Schutte, 2007 ). The problem solving treatment tested in the current study for minor depression is a brief variant of social problem solving therapy ( D’Zurilla & Nezu, 1999 ). It is a psychosocial skills training intervention originally designed and tested in the United Kingdom as a treatment for emotional distress in primary care ( Catalan, Gath, Bond, Day, & Hall, 1991 ). It has since been shown to be effective in treating major depression in primary care ( Mynors-Wallis, 2002 ; Mynors-Wallis, Gath, Lloyd-Thomas, & Tomlinson, 1995 ). During the past ten years the intervention has been adapted and elaborated for investigation in the United States ( Barrett et al., 2001 ; Unutzer et al., 2002 ; Williams et al., 2000 ). It has been coined Problem Solving Treatment for Primary Care or PST-PC. PST-PC consists of six sessions lasting 30 minutes each. PST-PC can be delivered by non-mental health professionals, such as nurses and social workers. In PST-PC the entire problem solving skill set is introduced in the first session and the skills are reinforced at each of the subsequent sessions.

Coping Styles and Depression

Given that PST-PC focuses on coping skills, it is reasonable to expect that its effectiveness may be moderated by individual differences in coping styles. Researchers have long noted an association between individual differences in coping styles and depressive symptomatology (e.g., ( Billings & Moos, 1984 ; Folkman & Lazarus, 1986 ). A recent comprehensive review of the literature identifies the three most frequent categories of coping style as problem-solving, avoidance, and seeking social support ( Skinner, Edge, Alman, & Sherwood, 2003 ). A meta-analysis of studies on the association of coping styles with physical and psychological health found that the largest effect size involved the negative association between avoidance and psychological health ( Penley, Tomaka, & Wiebe, 2002 ). With respect to depression, an avoidant coping style has regularly been shown to be associated with increased depression among adolescents ( Gomez & McLaren, 2006 ), young adults (e.g., ( Penland, Masten, Zelhart, Fournet, & Callahan, 2000 ), new mothers (e.g., ( Terry, Mayocchi, & Hynes, 1996 ), late middle-aged adults (e.g., ( Holahan, Moos, Holahan, Brennan, & Schutte, 2005 ) and the elderly (e.g., ( Mausbach et al., 2006 ). In addition, avoidant coping appears to interfere with spontaneous improvement in minor depression ( Hegel, Oxman, Hull, Swain, & Swick, 2006 ).

Given that PST-PC is focused on decreasing behavioral avoidance of problems ( Moorey, Holting, Hughes, Knynenberg, & Michael, 2001 ) by problem-focused engagement, the differential effectiveness of treatment may be qualified by individual differences in coping style. Specifically, PST-PC may train individuals to compensate for characteristics that they lack. In such a compensatory model, PST-PC should have the greatest effectiveness among individuals low in problem-focused coping and use of social support and/or high in avoidance. The purpose of the present research was to test the therapeutic effect of PST-PC compared to usual care for persistent minor depression in primary care and examine the extent to which its effectiveness is moderated by individual differences in coping styles.

Participants and Procedures

Participants came from two academic primary care clinics. The first was a general internal medicine clinic with 20 board-certified staff internists and over 16,000 patients age 18 or older. Patients in this clinic have a mean age of 53 and are 57% female. The second was a family medicine clinic with nine board-certified family physicians and over 5,500 patients. Patients in this clinic had a mean age of 42 and are 67% female. Patients were mailed or received in the primary care clinic waiting room a depression screen, the PHQ-9 ( Spitzer, Kroenke, & Williams, 1999 ), prior to an appointment with their primary care clinician (PCC). Patients could also be referred by their PCC based on the PCC’s clinical assessment of depression. For the period January 1, 2003 through May 31, 2006, 12,486 screens were administered. Of these 8,215 screens were returned (66%). Of these 2202 (27%) were positive (i.e., endorsed depressed mood or anhedonia as being present for at least some of the days in the past two weeks, ( Whooley, Avins, Miranda, & Browner, 1997 ). Among these 2,202, 402 (18%) provided their name and phone number consenting to be contacted about the study. During this same period 110 patients were referred directly by their PCC. Of the 512 patients referred in either manner, 283 (55%) were successfully contacted and agreed to be scheduled for a study evaluation and 227 completed the evaluation, 132 (58%) of whom were from screening and 95 (42%) from PCC referral (see Figure 1 ). The medical school’s Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects approved the study. A complete description of the study was provided to the patient, and written informed consent was obtained.

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PST-PC = problem-solving treatment for primary care; UC = usual care.

*Attending 4 or more sessions of PST-PC is considered adequate treatment ( Williams et al., 2000 ).

At their referral intake, subjects were evaluated by a research mental health clinician using a semi-structured interview to assess eligibility, a modified PRIME-MD ( Spitzer et al., 1994 ). Inclusion criteria were as follows: diagnosis of minor depression consisting of 2 to 4 DSM-IV symptoms of depression, one of which was depressed mood or anhedonia; presence of symptoms for at least two weeks but less than two years; impaired daily function; score ≥ 10 on the 17-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAMD, Hamilton, 1967 ); age 18 or older. Exclusion criteria were as follows: major depressive disorder within previous six months; dysthymia; current antidepressant drug use; current treatment with a psychotherapist; major psychiatric co-morbidity (psychosis, bipolar affective disorder, PTSD, substance abuse within past six months; acute suicidal risk). 180 subjects met eligibility criteria and were entered into a four-week watchful waiting period.

The purpose of the watchful waiting phase was to identify patients with persistent minor depression. After four weeks, subjects were re-evaluated to see if they still met eligibility criteria, and if so were randomized. Randomization was stratified by gender and age group (18 to 59 and 60 and older). A randomization list for each strata was independently prepared by a statistician in blocks of four, consecutively assigned by a research assistant who kept the assessors blind to assignment. Subjects were re-evaluated for depressive symptoms at four, nine, and 35 weeks after randomization.


PST-PC is a six-session intervention, which took place over a nine week period. The first PST-PC treatment session was one hour in length and included an assessment of the patient’s problems, an explanation of the rationale of treatment, establishing a positive problem orientation, and a complete problem solving treatment session. This initial problem solving treatment session consisted of taking the patient through six problem solving steps. First, a problem was clarified, evaluated for barriers to its resolution, and an objective problem definition was developed. Second, an achievable goal was developed that could be accomplished prior to the next treatment session. Importance was placed on the goal addressing the barriers identified in the previous step. Third, multiple solution alternatives were identified via brainstorming. Fourth, each solution was evaluated for its unique advantages (pros) as well as obstacles to its implementation (cons) and one or more solutions were chosen for implementation. Fifth, a specific plan of action was designed for implementing the solution prior to the subsequent visit. The second through sixth sessions were approximately 30 minutes in length. These sessions were entirely dedicated to implementing the PST-PC strategy for at least one problem area. Each of these sessions began by completing the sixth step of PST-PC that was to evaluate the implementation of the solution from the previous session. In keeping with the prototype for PST-PC developed in the UK, time was also spent discussing and planning regular pleasant activities (e.g., leisure, social, and recreational activities) to be completed between sessions.

Two masters level counselors were trained to provide PST-PC in a program consisting of a one-day workshop with demonstrations and role play, a comprehensive treatment manual ( Hegel & Arean, 2003 ), and five supervised training cases consisting of six sessions each. Each therapist was determined to have met basic competency criteria as defined by at least a “satisfactory” performance for each session of their last two training cases.

Patients randomized to UC had a visit scheduled with their PCC within four weeks. Patients were urged to discuss treatment options with their PCC. While the provision of a diagnosis to both patient and PCC and the scheduling of a follow-up appointment were a deviation from UC (necessitated by ethical and practical considerations), the intervention in other respects was to approximate routine physician practice in non-research circumstances. PCCs had the option of suggesting additional watchful waiting, prescribing antidepressants, and/or providing brief supportive counseling or external referral to specialty mental health.

Assessments took place at five time points: recruitment (“- 4 weeks”), end of watchful waiting / randomization (“week 0”), mid-treatment (“week 4”), end of treatment (“week 9”), and six-month follow-up (“week 35”). The following measures were used.

The Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D)

The 17-item HAM-D ( Hamilton, 1967 ) was used as an eligibility criterion for entry into watchful waiting and subsequently into the treatment study (HAM-D ≥ 10) ( Barrett et al., 2001 ; Williams et al., 2000 ). The items are rated during a clinical interview with a score range from 0 to 53. The HAM-D was administered at weeks -4, 0, 4, 9, 35.

Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS)

The 10-item, observer-rated MADRS was used as the principle measure of improvement for these analyses. MADRS items are rated on a 0-to-6 severity scale, resulting in a total score range of 0 to 60. The MADRS is sensitive to treatment change ( Davidson, Turnbull, & Strickland, 1986 ; Montgomery & Asberg, 1979 ). The MADRS focuses primarily on psychic symptoms of depression. In medical patients this helps in distinguishing treatment effects on depression from comorbid medical symptoms ( McDowell, 1996 ). Also, the MADRS was not subject to being potentially confounded and limited in range by use as an eligibility criterion for entry into the RCT, as was the HAM-D. The MADRS was administered at weeks -4, 0, 4, 9, 35. A standardized coefficient alpha of .75 to .89 was observed over the course of the study.

Hopkins Symptom Checklist 20-item Depression Scale (HSCL-d-20)

The HSCL-d-20 was a secondary, self-report measure of depressive symptoms. This 20-item depression scale ( Katon et al., 1995 ) is derived from the 90-item HSCL ( Lipman, Covi, & Shapiro, 1979 ). Items are rated on a 5-point scale (0 to 4) according to how much the symptom has been experienced during the past week. Scale scores are determined by dividing the sum of the items by the total number of items, yielding a range of 0-4. The HSCL-d-20 was administered at weeks -4, 0, 4, 9, 35. A standardized coefficient alpha of .86 to .92 was observed over the course of the study.

The Brief COPE ( Carver, 1997 ), a shortened version of the original COPE ( Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub, 1989 ), has 28 self-report items that combine to form 14 subscales of coping reactions. Based on previous confirmatory factor analyses of the original COPE ( Tedlie, 1993 ), we were particularly interested in three subcomponents: problem focused coping (e.g., “I’ve been taking action to try to make the situation better”), using social support, and avoidant coping (e.g., “I’ve been giving up the attempt to cope”). A principal components analysis applied to earlier data provided additional support for this factor structure ( Hegel et al., 2006 ). Subscales were created for each of the theorized coping factors (Problem-focused Coping, six items, alpha = .79; Social Coping, four items, alpha = .82; Avoidant Coping, four items, alpha = .68). Items are rated on a 4-point scale (0-3) according to how much they pertain to the person. The Brief COPE was administered at weeks -4 and 35.

Medical Outcomes Short Form-36 (SF-36)

The SF-36 is a multidimensional measure of function developed by the RAND Corporation from the Health Insurance Experiment ( Wells et al., 1989 ). We selected the role emotional scale as the most specific descriptor of functional impairment from depression and one of the two standardized component summary measures (physical component score, PCS) of the SF-36 to measure functional impairment from medical conditions to control for this influence on depression outcomes. We did not use the mental health component summary measure because it includes depressive symptoms and, thus, is not an independent measure of function. The SF-36 was administered at weeks -4, 0, 9, and 35.

Problem Solving Treatment for Primary Care Adherence and Competence Scale (PST-PAC)

The PST-PAC was used as the measure of therapist fidelity to the PST-PC protocol. The PST-PAC was completed by the PST-PC trainer/supervisor based on audiotape review of treatment sessions. The PST-PAC is comprised of seven items scored on a 0 to 5 scale (0=very poor, 5=very good). Six items assess fidelity to technical skills, completing the six specific problem solving stages, with an internal consistency alpha from .83 to .89 and an average inter-rater agreement per item (defined as agreement on the rating plus or minus 1 point) of 86%. The seventh item is a global rating of the overall performance of the therapist taking into account patient and problem complexity ( Hegel, Dietrich, Seville, & Jordan, 2004 ).

Care as Usual Treatment (CUT)

The CUT is a 47-item self-report we constructed to collect information on the use of pharmacologic and psychotherapeutic interventions for depression during the treatment trial. The CUT was administered at weeks 0, 9, and 35. Because very few patients in PST-PC used outside treatment, the primary analytic purpose of the CUT was to assess the use of antidepressants or outside psychotherapy in usual care over the treatment trial. One dichotomous variable was the use or non-use of such therapies. A second variable was a four-point Likert scale, by blind rating, for the adequacy of the treatment based on additional questions in the CUT.

Statistical Analyses

We conducted bivariate analyses to compare demographic and clinical characteristics of PST-PC and UC patients at baseline and primary hypotheses regarding treatment and coping styles were tested by intention to treat analysis using a linear mixed model with five time periods. Because we assumed non-linearity over time, time was treated as a repeated factor. Treatment (PST-PC versus UC) was treated as a time-invariant factor and the three coping styles (Avoidant Coping, Problem-focused Coping, and Social Coping) were treated as time-invariant, continuous covariates. We assessed fixed effects for these variables and their interactions in a fully factorial design using SPSS Mixed with restricted maximum likelihood estimation. A variety of initial models that varied solely in their specification of the error variance-covariance matrix were compared using Schwarz’s Bayesian Information Criterion (BIC) as a parsimonious index of model fit in order to identify the most appropriate error structure to assume when testing our hypotheses. Following tests of our primary hypotheses regarding the effects of Time, Treatment, and Coping Styles, analyses were conducted that controlled for background variables (gender, age group, education, recruitment site, and marital status) as well as use of treatment (CUT) and physical functioning (SF-36 PCS). For recruitment purposes, a power analysis was based on an effect size from earlier work ( Williams et al., 2000 ). We estimated that a sample size of 136 and a clinically significant difference (e.g. a 25% difference in depression remission) would result in a power of 80% with alpha set at 0.05. Finally, a series of analyses were conducted to assess the clinical significance of observed change.

Sample Characteristics

A total of 167 subjects completed watchful waiting. Of these, 141 were still eligible and randomized, 72 to PST-PC and 69 to UC (see Figure 1 ). Baseline sociodemographic and clinical characteristics of both groups appear in Table 1 . The randomized group included a wide variation in duration of minor depression with a mean of almost one year, (50.84 ± 37.12 weeks) and a relatively high level of impairment (SF-36 role emotional = 41.37 ± 39.01). Consistent with the sociodemographics of the population served by the clinics, 54% had a college education, 68% had an income > $40,000, and there was little impairment from medical comorbidity (mean SF-36 PCS of 74.18 ± 23.70). There was a significant difference between the two treatment groups only in employment, with 10% more persons in the UC group employed and a trend for more comorbid panic disorder in the UC group.

Therapy Characteristics

Less than 30% of UC subjects received or accepted a prescription for antidepressants. No patients in PST-PC reported taking a prescription drug for antidepressants. Similarly, only 4 (5.8%) of subjects in UC and three (4.2%) of PST-PC subjects reported having one or more appointments with an outside mental health professional. Fifty-six of 69 (81.2%) UC subjects had at least one depression-related visit with their PCC.

Therapists were not unique to site. They alternated assignment of subjects randomized to PST-PC unless scheduling prevented a patient being seen initially within two weeks. Because of scheduling availability of the therapists and patients, therapist 1 had 10 subjects at the family medicine site and therapist 2 only had 3 subjects at the family medicine site. The therapists had equal numbers of patients at the general internal medicine site.

The independent evaluators were asked to guess randomization assignment. They correctly guessed for 48% of PST-PC assigned subjects and for 62% of UC assigned subjects (χ 2 =1.56, p=0.21, Kappa = 0.10). There was no difference in correct guessing between the two evaluators.

PST-PC sessions were audio recorded and a random selection of one-third of sessions (n=59) were analyzed for adherence. The therapists achieved an adequate mean (SD) score or better (≥ 3) on the technical skills of treatment: defining the problem 4.31 (±1.25), establishing realistic goals 4.39 (±1.31), generating solutions 4.20 (±1.34), choosing solutions 3.69 (±1.43), implementing solutions 4.25 (±1.55), and evaluating outcome 4.25 (±0.98). On the global measure of treatment quality a mean rating of 3.92 (±0.97) (good to very good) was achieved. Therapist 1 was rated significantly higher than therapist 2 on 5 of the 7 scales. However, There were no significant differences in MADRS or HSCL scores at any time point between therapists (p values ranging from a low of 0.237 for MADRS before randomization to 0.925 at week 9).

Of the 141 participants randomized to receive either PST-PC or UC, 107 completed treatment (PST-PC = 57/72; UC = 50/69; χ 2 = .86, n.s.). Completers were compared to noncompleters on all baseline and clinical characteristics that appear in Table 1 . Completers were younger, t(139) = -3.099, p = .002, had better physical functioning as measured by the SF-36 PCS, t(139) = 2.295, p = .023, and were less likely to be suffering from a panic disorder, χ 2 (1) = 12.01, p = .003, Fischer’s Exact Test.

For the primary analyses, the MADRS measure of depression was treated as a continuous variable assessed at five time points, with Time treated as a repeated factor, Treatment as a fixed factor, and each coping style as continuous covariates in a fully factorial linear mixed model. This analysis revealed a main effect of Time, F(4,166.279) = 101.367, p < .001, such that participants showed decreases in depression over the course of the study. In addition, there was a significant effect of Treatment, F(1,107.597) = 8.352, p < .01, such that patients receiving PST generally had lower levels of depression than those receiving UC (although this was not the case at Week 0). The Time by Treatment interaction approached conventional levels of significance, F(4,166.279) = 2.33, p = .058, such that individuals in the PST-PC group appeared to improve at a faster rate over the course of treatment and follow-up compared to those in UC. With respect to coping styles, there was a significant main effect of Avoidant Coping, F(1,105.464) = 9.163, p = .003, and a Time by Treatment by Avoidant Coping interaction, F(4,157.945) = 3.626, p = .007. The latter interaction is depicted in Figure 2 . 1 It can be seen in this figure that those high in Avoidance assigned to UC improved less than (a) those high in Avoidance assigned to PST and (b) those low in Avoidant Coping in either treatment group.

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Note. Avoidance coping is treated as a continuous measure. As a consequence, the plotted values do not represent means. Rather they represent constructed values for individuals one standard deviation above and below the mean in Avoidance. 1

In addition to these effects, there was a significant main effect of Problem-focused Coping, F(1,123.857) = 4.850, p = .029, and a Problem-focused Coping by Time interaction, F(4,164.840) = 2.580, p = .039. Although those high in Problem-focused Coping began treatment at a slightly lower level of depression, they improved at a slower rate over the course of the study. In addition, there was a three-way interaction of Problem-focused Coping, Social Coping, and Treatment, F(1,98.676) = 7.801, p = .006. High Problem-focused, high Social Coping individuals randomly assigned to Usual Care, and low Problem-focused, low Social Coping individuals randomly assigned to PST, started at Week 0 with lower levels of depression. Because this interaction involved Treatment but existed prior to treatment initiation (Week 0), and because it was non-significant at Weeks 4, 9, and 35 when Week 0 MADRS levels were covaried, it was attributed to the vagaries of random assignment.

These analyses were also conducted using the following covariates entered as a block: Marital status, Education level, Age, Gender, Physical functioning, Recruitment site, Use of other treatments, and Use of treatments by Time. This had the effect of rendering the interaction of Treatment and Time significant at conventional levels, F(4,164.369) = 3.354, p = .011. All seven of the other effects remained statistically significant. Of the demographic covariates in the final model, only Education, F(1,135.461) = 5.073, p = .026, achieved significance such that those with higher education were less depressed. A final covariance analysis conducted within the PST-PC treatment condition revealed that when Therapist was included as a covariate it was not statistically significant and did not alter the level of significance of any of the remaining effects.

A follow-up set of analyses were conducted in order to provide support for the interpretation of the Time by Treatment by Avoidant Coping interaction in terms of the ineffectiveness of UC among those high in Avoidant Coping. Given that both depression and Avoidant Coping were assessed as continuous variables, this interaction can be viewed in terms of variation in their intercorrelation as a function of the discrete variables of Time and Treatment. This variation is depicted in Figure 3 . Avoidant Coping (as measured four weeks prior to treatment onset) becomes more strongly associated with depression over the watchful waiting period (Week -4 to Week 0). This association then becomes weaker over the course of treatment (Week 0 to Week 9), particularly among those in PST-PC. Most strikingly, Avoidant Coping (again, as measured four weeks prior to treatment onset) is once again related to depression at the 35 week follow-up among those who had been assigned to UC, r(N=50) = .34, p = .016, but is unrelated to depression among those who had PST-PC, r(N=58) = -.05, p > .50. The size of the difference between the latter two correlations is statistically significant, z = 2.03, p = .042. This pattern supports an interpretation of the Time by Treatment by Avoidant Coping interaction in terms of the effectiveness of PST-PC relative to UC to break the association of dispositional Avoidant Coping and depression. Similar effects were not observed for Problem-Focused or Social Coping, whose correlations with depression did not achieve conventional levels of significance at any time-point.

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*p < .05

As a secondary analysis, the HSCL-d-20 measure of depression was also treated as a continuous variable assessed at five time points, with Time treated as a repeated factor, Treatment as a fixed factor, and each coping style as continuous covariates in a fully factorial linear mixed model. These self-report results essentially replicated the observerrated MADRS results. There were main effects of Time, F(4,187.246) = 50.741, p < .001, Treatment, F(1,98.730) = 7.137, p < . 01, and Avoidant Coping, F(1,97.291) = 25.662, p < .001, although the main effect of Problem-focused Coping only approached conventional levels of significance, F(1,110.129) = 3.493, p = .064. Unlike the MADRS, the predicted Time by Treatment interaction achieved conventional levels of significance, F(4,187.246) = 3.903, p = .005, such that individuals in the PST-PC group improved at a faster rate over the course of treatment and follow-up compared to those in UC. In addition, although there was a significant Treatment by Avoidant Coping interaction, F(1,97.291) = 7.458, p = .007, with individuals high in Avoidance showing less improvement in UC than in PST-PC, this interaction was not qualified by Time. At the same time, univariate analyses conducted at each time period revealed that the two-way interaction of Treatment by Avoidance was only a significant interaction at the 4 week measurement period, F(1,96) = 6.548, p = .012. Although the three way interaction of Treatment, Social Coping, and Problem-focused Coping previously attributed to random assignment differences also appeared for the HSCL-d-20, F(1,93.127) = 9.327, p = .003, pre-random assignment differences diminished over the course of the study, thus yielding a four-way interaction with Time, F(4,176.823) = 3.532, p = .008. Finally, the Problem-focused Coping by Time interaction was not significant, F(4,183.487) < 1.00, n.s.

Clinical Significance

The clinical significance of treatment effects was assessed following the recommendations of Jacobson ( Jacobson, Roberts, Berns, & McGlinche, 1999 ; Jacobson & Truax, 1991 ). The results of a meta-analysis of control participants from ten studies was used to define the mean and standard deviation of the MADRS in the normal population ( Zimmerman, Chelminski, & Posternak, 2004 ). Given that our initial sample distribution overlapped the normal comparison group, clinically significant change in functioning subsequent to therapy was defined as an outcome MADRS score closer to the mean of the control group than the mean of the initial sample ( Jacobson & Truax, 1991 ). As a consequence, the criterion for clinically significant change was a MADRS score of 11.35. Of the four groups depicted in Figure 2 , only the high and low Avoidance individuals in the PST-PC group fell below this value (11.35) after 4 weeks of treatment. By the end of 9 weeks of treatment, low Avoidance individuals in the UC group also fell below this value. High Avoidance individuals in the UC group never achieved clinically significant improvement according to this criterion.

Jacobson and Truax ( Jacobson & Truax, 1991 ) also recommend using the Reliable Change Index to assess clinically significant change. Within the present sample, a reduction on the MADRS of 10.78 units would constitute clinically significant change according to this index. Relative to initial baselines, high Avoidance individuals in the UC group never achieve this criterion, whereas individuals in the other three groups achieve it after 9 weeks of treatment and maintain it through follow-up.

Although useful as a criterion to assess the clinical significance of change observed in the linear mixed model, the Reliable Change Index can also be used to define each individual as having achieved or not achieved clinically significant change relative to their own pretreatment baseline at each of the three measurement periods following treatment onset (Weeks 4, 9, and 35). These longitudinal, dichotomous data were analyzed using General Estimating Equations in a fully factorial design. Consistent with the previous analyses, this analysis yielded an interaction of Treatment and Avoidant Coping, Wald χ 2 (1) = 8.716, p = .003, such that participants high in avoidance were more likely to improve in PST than UC whereas this was not true for those low in avoidance. Predicted proportions for high and low avoidant individuals appear in Table 2 . There was also a main effect of Time, Wald χ 2 (2) = 17.808, p < .001, such that participants improved over time and a main effect of Problem-Focused Coping, Wald χ 2 (1) = 6.815, p < .01, such that those low in Problem-Focused Coping were more likely to improve than those high in Problem-Focused Coping. Finally, there was an interaction of social coping and time, Wald χ 2 (2) = 6.279, p = .04. Those high in Social Coping were more likely to improve early in treatment compared to those low in Social Coping.

Note. Avoidant coping is treated as a continuous measure. The table values represent recreated proportions for individuals one standard deviation above and below the mean in Avoidance. 1

Completer Analyses

All of the above intent-to-treat analyses were also conducted using repeated measures ANOVA. Because of its treatment of missing data, such an approach limits participants to those with complete data and hence all of those who completed treatment. These analyses replicated all of the essential findings of the intent-to-treat linear mixed model approach and provided stronger support for two previously observed near significant patterns. Thus, for the MADRS, the Time by Treatment interaction was significant, averaged F(3.49,61.09) = 2.522, p = .041, and for the HSCL-d-20, the Time by Treatment by Avoidance interaction was F(4,79) = 2.464, p = .052. 2

The duration of illness and associated impairment of this patient sample supports previous assertions that minor depression should be treated ( Cuijpers, Smit et al., 2007 ). This treatment trial suggests that a significant majority of primary care patients with persistent and relatively severe minor depression do not spontaneously improve during watchful waiting, but do improve once engaged in some form of active treatment. This treatment trial also found two significant and specific benefits for PST-PC.

First, those receiving PST-PC improved more quickly than those in UC. This effect approached significance for the uncorrected analyses of the MADRS (p = .058) and achieved significance for the covariate corrected intent-to-treat analyses and completer analyses of the MADRS and all three analyses of the HSCL-d-20. These findings are consistent with earlier work. In previous work comparing PST-PC with a placebo for minor depression in primary care, PST-PC also showed a more rapid improvement in symptoms, but not overall outcome, for adults age 60 and older ( Williams et al., 2000 ). In a smaller study of adults age 18 to 59 with minor depression, symptom improvement with PST-PC was slower than placebo or antidepressant during the first two weeks of treatment, but faster during the next nine weeks of treatment ( Barrett et al., 2001 ). At the end of treatment, overall symptom reduction was not significantly different. In these two earlier studies, patients in the medication or placebo interventions had more treatment visits than in the present study, yet PST-PC still showed faster symptom improvement over the course of the treatment trial. Together, these results suggest that there is something about PST-PC that improves symptoms at a faster rate and that it is not just due to the number of treatment contacts.

Second, patients relying on an avoidant coping style showed greater improvement with PST-PC than Usual Care. These differences persisted for at least six months following treatment. Similar results were observed when patients were categorized on clinically significant change in depression. These results support the hypothesized compensatory model for PST-PC. As in previous research, avoidant coping in general was more strongly related to depression than other coping styles. Taken together, these findings support the notion that PST-PC for minor depression may counteract a dispositional tendency to avoid dealing with problems, supporting the argument for matching treatment with individual characteristics ( Dussseldorp, Spinhoven, Bakker, van Dyck, & van Balkom, 2007 ; Karno & Longabaugh, 2007 ; Thieme, Turk, & Flor, 2007 ).

A meta-analysis of PST studies found a high level of heterogeneity for unclear reasons ( Cuijpers, van Straten et al., 2007 ). In earlier multisite trials ( Barrett et al., 2001 ; JW Williams et al., 2000 ) there were indications that there may have been site differences, either in patients or therapists. These studies did not assess and control for coping styles and therefore were not designed to detect their influence. The present trial was able to address the issue of patient differences and suggests that these differences are important.


To some extent the results of this study are limited in their generalizability given the type of patients who chose to participate. Knowing this was a study of counseling, the sample was probably self-selected for desiring non-pharmacologic treatment. Also, the sample was primarily Caucasian, with higher income and education, potentially further limiting generalizability. A large number of patients with possible minor depression did not agree to further evaluation or participation. However, we suppose that those who did participate probably were motivated by more persistent and impairing minor depression and comorbidity and thus are the ones most likely in need of some form of active treatment.

In addition, it is possible that the differential effectiveness of treatment was to some degree a function of the imbalance in the number of PST-PC vs. UC treatment contacts. However, earlier work controlling for the number of sessions resulted in similar findings ( Williams et al., 2000 ). At the same time, it is hard to conceptualize how variation in the number of contacts would systematically affect only those with an avoidant coping style. Finally, it was observed that at alpha=.68, the reliability of the Avoidant Coping scale fell just short of the traditional .70 definition of an acceptable level of reliability. It should be kept in mind that alpha constitutes an estimated lower bound of scale reliability and that a lower alpha increases error and diminishes effect sizes rather than increasing them.


We feel that there are three important findings in the present study. First, all patients improved over time. The fact that marked improvement was not observed until the watchful waiting period was completed and treatment initiated, even for participants assigned to usual care, suggests that usual care interactions are relatively good at improving minor depression ( Carney, Dietrich, Eliassen, Owen, & Badger, 1999 ). Additional research needs to be conducted to identify factors responsible for such effects. Second, relative to Usual Care, PST-PC led to greater improvement over time, but third this effect was qualified by individual differences in avoidant coping style. Patients high in avoidance assigned to Usual Care showed the least improvement over time and this was generally true regardless of measure (MADRS or HSCL-d-20), analysis (linear mixed modeling of depression as a continuous variable vs. GEE analysis of dichotomous clinically significant change), and design (intent-to-treat analyses vs. completer analyses).

On the basis of these findings it is suggested that more careful diagnosis and treatment matching may be necessary in primary care. When a primary care patient with minor depression is interested in treatment, a PCC might consider asking questions about avoidant coping. For those patients who employ avoidant coping strategies such as denial or behavioral disengagement ( Carver, 1997 ; Carver et al., 1989 ), referral for a problem focused treatment may be more beneficial than standard primary care treatment.


This work was supported by grant R01 MH62322 from the National Institute of Mental Health.

We thank Cynthia Hewitt for her tireless efforts in coordinating most aspects of the study, Brady Cole, MA, and Dyan Patton, MSW, for their efforts as PST-PC therapists, Janette Seville, PhD, for her assistance as an independent evaluator, Angelica Barrett for help with recruitment and retention, and Jessica Magidson for assistance with preliminary data analyses.

1 Readers not familiar with the importance of adopting this approach to testing and depicting the effects of continuous predictors are referred to MacCallum, Shaobo, Preacher & Rucker (2002) and Aiken and West (1991) respectively.

2 Although there are no generally accepted estimates of effect sizes in linear mixed model analyses, corresponding adjusted η 2 values for the repeated measures analysis of variance conducted on the MADRS for completers were Time, η 2 = .76, Treatment, η 2 = .03, Time by Treatment, η 2 = .09, Avoidant coping, η 2 = .07, Time by Treatment by Avoidant coping, η 2 = .14, Problem-focused coping, η 2 = .02, Time by Problem-focused coping, η 2 = .11, and Problem-focused Coping by Social Coping by Treatment, η 2 = .07. Similar effect sizes were observed for the HSCL-d-20.

Publisher's Disclaimer: The following manuscript is the final accepted manuscript. It has not been subjected to the final copyediting, fact-checking, and proofreading required for formal publication. It is not the definitive, publisher-authenticated version. The American Psychological Association and its Council of Editors disclaim any responsibility or liabilities for errors or omissions of this manuscript version, any version derived from this manuscript by NIH, or other third parties. The published version is available at http://www.apa.org/journals/ccp/

Contributor Information

Thomas E. Oxman, Departments of Psychiatry and of Community and Family Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School.

Mark T. Hegel, Department of Psychiatry, Dartmouth Medical School.

Jay G. Hull, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College.

Allen J. Dietrich, Departments of Community and Family Medicine and of Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School.

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Problem-Solving Therapy (PST)

(For resources, this is the publication date. For programs, this is the date posted.)


Visit the the  National Network of PST Clinicians, Trainers, & Researchers  for training options and resources. Also see the  archived NREPP listing .

Visit the the  National Network of PST Clinicians, Trainers, & Researchers .

Problem-Solving Therapy (PST) is a brief psychosocial treatment for patients experiencing depression and distress related to inefficient problem-solving skills. The PST model instructs patients on problem identification, efficient problem-solving, and managing associated depressive symptoms.

While there are different types of PST, they are all based on the same principle of resolving depression by re-engaging the client in active problem-solving and activities. In general, PST involves the following seven stages: (1) selecting and defining the problem, (2) establishing realistic and achievable goals for problem resolution, (3) generating alternative solutions, (4) implementing decision-making guidelines, (5) evaluation and choosing solutions, (6) implementing the preferred solutions, and (7) evaluating the outcome. A primary focus is learning and practicing PST skills, which are centered around empowering patients to learn to solve problems on their own.

Overall, the number of PST sessions may range from between 4 and 12. Individual sessions are, on average, 40 minutes long; however, group sessions can last up to 90 minutes. Each PST session follows a typical structure of agenda-setting, reviewing progress, engaging in the PST model problem-solving activities, reviewing action plans, and wrap-up.

PST can be used in wide range of settings and patient populations, including adaptations for those in primary care and those who are homebound, medically ill, and elderly. It can be delivered by a variety of providers, including mental health professionals, social workers, and health professionals, including primary care physicians and nurses.

Designation as a “Program with Evidence of Effectiveness”

SPRC designated this intervention as a “program with evidence of effectiveness” based on its inclusion in SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP). 

Outcome(s) Reviewed (Evidence Rating)*

  • Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors (Effective)
  • Depression and Depressive Symptoms (Effective)
  • Self-Concept (Effective)
  • Social Competence (Promising)
  • Self-Regulation (Promising)
  • Non-Specific Mental Health Disorders and Symptoms (Promising)
  • Physical Health Conditions and Symptoms (Ineffective)
  • General Functioning and Well-being (Ineffective)
  • Anxiety Disorders and Symptoms (Ineffective)

Read more about the  program’s ratings .


* NREPP changed its review criteria in 2015. This program was reviewed under the post-2015 criteria. To help practitioners find programs that fit their needs, NREPP reviews the evidence for specific outcomes, not overall programs. Each outcome was assigned an evidence rating of Effective, Promising, or Ineffective. A single program may have multiple outcomes with different ratings.  When considering programs, we recommend (a) assessing whether the specific outcomes achieved by the program are a fit for your needs; and (b) examining the strength of evidence for each outcome.

2012 NSSP Objectives Addressed: 

Objective 8.3: Promote timely access to assessment, intervention, and effective care for individuals with a heightened risk for suicide.

problem solving therapy primary care (pst pc)

Problem Solving Treatment (PST)

The AIMS Center encourages organizations and clinicians to pursue certification in Problem Solving Treatment (PST). Clinicians are taught by expert trainers using procedures and standards set by the National Network of PST Clinicians, Trainers & Researchers. Patrick J. Raue, PhD , Associate Director for Evidence-based Psychosocial Interventions at the AIMS Center, directs the National Network of PST Clinicians, Trainers & Researchers, which was founded by Patricia Areán, PhD . 

Problem Solving Treatment (PST), also known as Problem-Solving Treatment – Primary Care (PST-PC), is a brief, evidence-based approach that is effective with a majority of patient populations, including patients of many different cultures. PST teaches and empowers patients to solve the here-and-now problems contributing to their depression and helps increase their self-efficacy. 

As part of a treatment plan, PST typically involves six to ten sessions, depending on the patient’s needs. The first appointment is approximately one hour long (this can be split into two separate ½ hour sessions if scheduling an hour is difficult) because it includes psychoeducation and an introduction to the PST model. Subsequent appointments are 30 minutes long.

Psychotherapy plays an important part in a patient's treatment plan, given patient preferences and the limitations of antidepressant medications. Organizations implementing an integrated care program should have capacity to offer an evidence-based psychotherapy such as PST. PST sessions can be billed by licensed providers using psychotherapy or CoCM CPT codes.

Evidence Base 

PST is the most widely used intervention to treat depression and anxiety in a primary care environment. Research shows it significantly improves patient outcomes in a wide range of settings and patient populations. PST is effective for depression among all adult populations (aged 18-100), including older adults with mild cognitive impairment. 

The document below contains selected references demonstrating the efficacy of PST in primary care. 

  • Problem Solving Treatment: Selected References  

Get Certified in PST

We offer two tiers of PST training for licensed clinicians: a shorter Course in PST (Tier 1) and full PST certification (Tier 2). We encourage clinicians to pursue Tier 2: PST Certification, as skill-based practice and expert feedback are important to meeting fidelity standards. Notably, the evidence base for the effectiveness of PST has been demonstrated using clinicians at this level of clinical skill. For more information on the courses (including pricing and eligibility) click the links below, or download a detailed overview covering both PST training tiers . 

A Course in PST  consists of a series of online modules introducing PST principles, followed by 6 monthly group case presentation calls.

PST Certification  involves online modules followed by individual simulated virtual visits, 6 monthly group case presentation calls, and in-depth expert feedback on application of clinical skills based on session audio recording review. 

Become an Expert PST Trainer

Get certified as a PST Trainer , in these group training sessions participants will learn the skills needed to train others in PST. 

Continuing Education

The University of Washington AIMS Center is approved by the  American Psychological Association  (APA) to sponsor continuing education (CE) for psychologists. The AIMS Center maintains responsibility for this program and its content. APA CE credits can be used by most licensed mental health providers, including psychologists, clinical social workers, professional counselors, and marriage and family therapists. Clinicians should check their specific state requirements to confirm that credits awarded by the APA apply to them.

Participants are eligible for up to 10 CE credits (PST Tier 1) or up to 13 CE credits (PST Tier 2). To receive credits participants must attend the entire course and pass a learning evaluation.

Conflict of Interest Disclosure Information

There are no relevant financial relationships to disclose for authors or planners of this content. 


The certification process provided by the AIMS Center typically requires between 19 to 22 hours of clinician time over the course of seven months and requires demonstration of mastery of the technique.

Please read through the subsequent pages in the left-hand menu for more information about Tiers 1 and 2 of training.

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Training Module

Problem Solving Treatment for Patients with Depression

About problem solving treatment.

Problem Solving Treatment (PST), also known as Problem-Solving Treatment – Primary Care (PST-PC), teaches and empowers patients to solve the here-and-now problems contributing to their depression and helps increase self-efficacy. 

Developed for use by medical professionals in primary care settings, an extensive evidence base shows that PST can effectively be provided in a wide range of settings and with a variety of providers and patient populations. 

As part of a treatment plan, PST typically involves six to ten sessions, depending on the patient’s needs. The first appointment is approximately one hour long (this can be split into two separate ½ hour sessions if scheduling an hour is difficult) because it includes psychoeducation and an introduction to the PST model before PST is applied. Subsequent appointments are 30 minutes long.

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Moderators of Outcome in Problem-Solving Therapy for Depression in Primary Care

  • Karen B. Schmaling , Ph.D.

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The purpose of this study was to conduct a secondary analysis of data from trials of problem-solving therapy in primary care (PST-PC) to examine differential outcomes by gender or race-ethnicity.

The participants were 352 patients with depression treated with PST-PC in multiple primary care sites in the United States.

Women’s depressive symptoms improved more over time than men’s. Hopkins Symptom Checklist depression scale scores decreased significantly (t=−10.12, df=692, p<0.001) (estimate=–0.02, 95% confidence interval=–0.03, –0.02). Although patients from racial-ethnic minority groups had more depressive symptoms over time than patients from nonminority groups, there was no evidence of differential change by racial-ethnic group.


These data add to the literature supporting the usefulness of PST-PC without evidence of differential effects for patients from racial-ethnic minority or nonminority groups.

Depressive symptoms improved more over time among women offered problem-solving therapy in primary care settings than among men.

Patients from racial-ethnic minority groups had more depressive symptoms than patients from nonminority groups over time, but patients from both groups responded similarly to problem-solving therapy.

Problem-solving therapy (PST) is a form of psychotherapy for depression based on the assumptions that stressful life problems can contribute to depressive symptoms and that systematically tackling life problems will decrease depressive symptoms. PST involves both behavioral activation and skills training. Different forms of PST have been developed for use in both mental health and primary care settings (PST-PC) ( 1 ), involving more or fewer sessions, respectively. Meta-analyses of PST trials have found superior effects of the therapy compared with usual care and waitlist conditions ( 2 ), a large effect compared with control conditions ( 1 ), and small to moderate effects for PST-PC specifically ( 3 – 5 ). These studies provide support for the overall efficacy of PST in reducing depressive symptoms.

Ideally, effective treatments have reliable outcomes regardless of patients’ sociodemographic characteristics, such as gender and race-ethnicity. Examining the effectiveness of treatments among different sociodemographic groups is useful to document the breadth of treatment applicability. Prior PST meta-analyses have varied in their reporting and analysis of studies’ sociodemographic compositions ( 1 – 4 ). Only one meta-analysis reported and analyzed the gender and race-ethnicity of study participants. It found that males were associated with greater improvement under PST-PC and that whites were not associated with any outcome ( 5 ). Considering the psychotherapy literature more broadly, meta-analyses of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) trials for depression using individual participant data found no differential outcomes by gender ( 6 ). A meta-regression of diverse forms of psychotherapy found no differences in depression outcomes between racial-ethnic minority and nonminority groups ( 7 ).

Previous meta-analyses generally did not examine gender or race-ethnicity as moderators of PST-PC outcomes, mostly due to the limited numbers of men and people belonging to racial-ethnic minority groups in studies’ samples ( 2 , 4 ). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine gender and race-ethnicity as potential moderators of PST-PC effects in order to assess the value of using PST-PC with these demographic subgroups.

Individual patient data were included from a double-blind, placebo-controlled efficacy study of paroxetine, placebo, and PST-PC treatments in four cities ( 8 , 9 )—only participants receiving PST-PC were included—and an effectiveness study of PST-PC in two rural towns ( 10 ). Potential patients age 18 and older were screened in primary care practice waiting rooms; those who expressed anhedonia or dysphoria were interviewed with the Primary Care Evaluation of Mental Disorders (PRIME-MD). (A list of references related to outcome measures is available as an online supplement to this article.) Included patients met DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for dysthymic disorder, depressive disorder not otherwise specified ( 8 , 9 ), or major depressive disorder ( 9 ). Exclusion criteria were bipolar disorder, other psychotic disorders, being in psychotherapy ( 8 – 10 ), or taking antidepressants at the time of the study ( 8 , 9 ).

Primary study outcomes have been reported previously ( 8 – 10 ). Among those who completed four or more sessions in one study, women and white patients were more likely to remit than men or nonwhite patients, with no significant interactions between gender or race-ethnicity and treatment ( 11 ).

The original studies were approved by the investigators’ institutional review boards, and patients gave informed consent to participate. These studies’ data were collected between approximately 1995 and 2004. The current study was deemed exempt by the author’s institutional review board because of its secondary use of deidentified data.

Therapists’ training in PST-PC was described previously ( 8 – 10 ). Patients could receive up to six PST-PC sessions over 11 weeks. They completed an average of 4.86±2.15 sessions (77% completed four or more sessions) ( 8 – 10 ).

The primary outcome measure was the average item value of the 20-item Hopkins Symptom Checklist depression scale (HSCL-20) (see online supplement ). The average item value ranged from 0, not at all, to 4, extremely. The internal consistency of the HSCL-20 in these and other PST-PC samples ( 9 ) (see online supplement ) ranged from 0.86 to 0.92. The HSCL-20 was administered before randomization and at week 11 in both studies; it was additionally administered at weeks 1, 2, 4, 6, and 25 in one study ( 8 , 9 ).

Univariate statistics were used to quantify the characteristics of the sample. Hierarchical linear models (HLMs) were used to test the moderating effects of gender and race-ethnicity on PST-PC outcomes over time. These analyses included patients on an intention-to-treat basis (i.e., all patients offered PST-PC were included, regardless of the number of sessions completed). Additional HLM analytic assumptions were fixed linear effects for time (in weeks), fixed gender or race-ethnicity, fixed interaction of gender or race-ethnicity with time, random intercepts, random effects for patients, and an autoregressive covariance structure for the repeated measure of time.

Of the 352 participants, 65% were female (N=229), and 35% were male (N=122); the gender of one patient was unknown. The majority of the sample identified as either European American (48%, N=170) or Latino/Hispanic (45%, N=160), followed by African American (4%, N=15), Asian/Pacific Islander (1%, N=3), and Native American (1%, N=2); the racial-ethnic background of two patients (1%) was unknown. The patients in the sample had a mean±SD age of 53.89±17.59 years and 11.30±4.50 years of formal education.

Patients met DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for one or more depressive disorders: major depressive disorder (23%, N=82); dysthymic disorder (31%, N=110); depressive disorder not otherwise specified (29%, N=102); and both major depression and dysthymic disorder (16%, N=58). Prior to treatment, HSCL-20 scores averaged 1.49±0.70.

The HLM analysis of gender as a moderator of outcomes over time found a significant main effect for time: HSCL-20 scores decreased significantly (t=−10.12, df=692, p<0.001) (estimate=–0.02, 95% confidence interval [CI]=–0.03, –0.02). The main effect for gender was not significant (t=−1.22, df=392, p=0.223) (estimate=–0.09, 95% CI=–0.24, 0.06). The interaction of gender and time (i.e., gender as a moderator of outcome) was significant (t=3.57, df=695, p<0.001) (estimate=0.01, 95% CI=0.01, 0.02). Figure 1 shows average HSCL-20 scores by week and gender: women improved more over time than men, particularly in the follow-up period.

FIGURE 1. Moderating effects of gender on depressive symptoms over time a

a Possible HSCL-20 scores range from 0 to 4, with higher scores indicating greater symptoms of depression.

Patients’ race-ethnicity was recoded as either majority (European American) or minority (all others); small numbers of those from some racial-ethnic backgrounds precluded more granular analyses. This HLM analysis found a significant decrease in HSCL-20 scores over time and a significant main effect for race-ethnicity (t=2.24, df=411, p=0.026); over time, patients from racial-ethnic minority groups had higher HSCL-20 scores than patients from racial-ethnic majority groups had (estimate=0.16, 95% CI=0.02, 0.30). However, there was no moderating effect of race-ethnicity over time (t=−1.20, df=652, p=0.229), suggesting no differential response to PST-PC by race-ethnicity (estimate=–0.01, 95% CI=–0.01, 0.00).

(See the online supplement for further exploration of race-ethnicity by time interaction and sensitivity analyses using only patients who completed four sessions of PST-PC, using only white and Latino/Hispanic patients, and adding study as a predictor. The pattern of results described above generally remained.)

Discussion And Conclusions

This study examined changes in depressive symptoms among geographically dispersed adult patients with depressive disorders who were offered PST-PC in two studies—one efficacy study and one effectiveness study—which were designed to maximize the internal and external validity of the treatment, respectively.

The results indicated that gender moderated outcomes: compared with men, women had relatively greater decreases in depressive symptoms over time. This result is inconsistent with an individual patient meta-analysis ( 6 ) that found no gender differences, but that analysis included diverse forms of CBT not limited to PST-PC. The present results also differ from the meta-regression ( 5 ) that found males to be associated with greater improvement after receiving PST-PC. The current study is less comparable to previous meta-analyses ( 1 – 5 , 7 ) of studies—which were more homogeneous in terms of patients’ depression diagnoses and more heterogeneous in terms of treatments—than to meta-analyses of individual patients. The current study also included data from longer follow-up periods than considered in the meta-analysis; the latter indicated that men improved more posttreatment than women ( 5 ). Our study suggests that women may continue to improve after treatment more than men. Another potential explanation for the current results is that the therapeutic relationship is a basic element of psychotherapy, including PST-PC. If women’s depression is more strongly associated with few or strained relationships than men’s depression, women may respond more than men to psychotherapies ( 6 ).

The results of this secondary data analysis, consistent with prior studies ( 5 , 7 ), do not support differential effectiveness of PST-PC by patient racial-ethnic group. However, the lack of racial-ethic differences in outcome by patient group may be due to the use of broad categories of race-ethnicity, which would ideally be examined in a more rarified manner, specific to individual race-ethnicities. Unfortunately, most studies lack large enough samples of racially-ethnically homogenous subgroups required for such analyses.

Although these results add to other studies supporting the usefulness of PST, this study also had several weaknesses. The use of data from studies with different methodologies may be questioned, although such heterogeneity may increase the generalizability of the results. Furthermore, the HSCL-20 is a well-established measure, but the clinical significance of its scores is uncertain. Final estimated HSCL-20 scores suggested that both men and women expressed depressive symptoms only “a little bit,” but the diagnostic evaluation was not repeated after treatment ( 10 ), so diagnostic change could not be examined. Future research that combines individual patient data across many studies may allow for finer-grained analyses of specific treatment outcomes among racial-ethnic and gender groups.

PST-PC, a brief, pragmatic treatment for depression, resulted in similar outcomes for patients of different race-ethnicities, but women experienced relatively more relief from their depressive symptoms than men. Cultural adaptations of evidence-based treatments are intended to enhance the applicability of that treatment to a particular culture. However, modifying the content of an evidence-based treatment may affect its efficacy. The use of Spanish-speaking therapists ( 10 ) is an example of a cultural adaptation in the implementation, but not the content, of PST-PC. The results of this study support the notion that modifying treatment implementation does not result in differential outcomes by racial-ethnic group. Future research on modifying the implementation or content of PST-PC may be necessary for men to experience the decline in depressive symptoms demonstrated by women. Despite gender differences, men had few depressive symptoms after treatment, supporting PST’s robust effects and status as a recommended psychotherapy for depression. (See the online supplement for references related to cultural adaptations of psychotherapies based on race-ethnicity and gender and to practice guidelines for depression.)

Dr. Schmaling reports no financial relationships with commercial interests.

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problem solving therapy primary care (pst pc)

  • Behavior therapy
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Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine pp 1539–1540 Cite as

Problem Solving

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Problem-solving skills training (PSST) ; Problem-solving therapy – primary care (PST-PC) ; Problem-solving therapy – SO (PST-SO) ; Social problem-solving therapy (SPST)

Problem-solving therapy (PST) is a brief, empirically supported, cognitive-behavioral intervention aimed at training clients to identify, evaluate, and resolve everyday problems through the methodical application of problem-solving skills. In addition to teaching specific coping skills, PST emphasizes the importance of maintaining a positive problem-solving orientation and a rational problem-solving style (D’Zurilla & Nezu, 2010 ).

An individual’s problem-solving orientation encompasses how one perceives problems, to what/whom they attribute these problems, how they appraise problematic situations, and the degree to which they view their problems as under their control. A major goal of PST is to help clients view problems as solvable challenges instead of insurmountable impasses.

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References and Readings

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Catalan, J., Gath, D. H., Anastasiades, P., Bond, S. A., Day, A., & Hall, L. (1991). Evaluation of a brief psychological treatment for emotional disorders in primary care. Psychological Medicine, 21 (4), 1012–1018.

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Chang, E. C., D’Zurilla, T. J., & Sanna, L. J. (Eds.). (2004). Social problem solving: Theory, research, and training . Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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D’Zurilla, T. J., & Nezu, A. M. (2010). Problem-solving therapy. In K. S. Dobson (Ed.), Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies (3rd ed., pp. 197–225). New York: Guilford Press.

Grant, J. S., Elliott, T. R., Weaver, M., Bartolucci, A. A., & Ginger, J. N. (2002). Telephone intervention with family caregivers of stroke survivors after rehabilitation. Stroke, 33 (8), 2060–2065.

Hegel, M. T., Barrett, J. E., & Oxman, T. E. (2000). Training therapists in problem-solving treatment of depressive disorders in primary care: Lessons learned from the “treatment effectiveness project”. Families, Systems, & Health, 18 , 423–435.

Houts, P. S., Nezu, A. M., Nezu, C. M., & Bucher, J. A. (1996). The prepared family caregiver: A problem-solving approach to family caregiver education. Patient Education and Counseling, 27 , 63–73.

Mynors-Wallis, L., & Gath, D. (1997). Predictors of treatment outcome for major depression in primary care. Psychological Medicine, 27 (3), 731–736.

Nezu, A. M., Nezu, C. M., & D’Zurilla, T. J. (2010). Problem-solving therapy. In N. Kazantzis, M. S. Reinecke, & A. Freeman (Eds.), Cognitive and behavioral theories in practice (pp. 76–114). New York: Guilford Press.

Nezu, A. M., Nezu, C. M., Felgoise, S. H., McClure, K. S., & Hots, P. S. (2003). Project genesis: Assessing the efficacy of problem-solving therapy for distressed adult cancer patients. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71 (6), 1036–1048.

Oxman, T. E., Hegel, M. T., Hull, J. G., & Dietrich, A. J. (2008). Problem-solving treatment and coping styles in primary care for minor depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76 (6), 933–943.

Perri, M. G., Nezu, A. M., McKelvey, W. F., Shermer, R. L., Renjilian, D. A., & Viegener, B. J. (2001). Individual versus group therapy for obesity: Effects of matching participants to their treatment preferences. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 69 (4), 722–726.

Sahler, O. J., Fairclough, D. L., Phipps, S., Mulhern, R. K., Dolgin, M. J., Noll, R. B., et al. (2005). Using problem-solving skills training to reduce negative affectivity in mothers of children with newly diagnosed cancer: Report of a multisite randomized trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73 (2), 272–283.

Wade, S. L., Walz, N. C., Carey, J. C., & William, K. M. (2008). Preliminary efficacy of a web-based family problem-solving treatment program for adolescents with traumatic brain injury. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, 23 (6), 369–377.

Wade, S. L., Wolfe, C., Brown, T. M., & Pestian, J. P. (2005). Putting the pieces together: Preliminary efficacy of a web-based family intervention for children with traumatic brain injury. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 30 (5), 437–442.

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