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Family and couples therapy for treating depressed adults

Gabor Keitner, MD
Section Editor
Peter P Roy-Byrne, MD
Deputy Editor
David Solomon, MD


Depression occurs in a social context and usually affects the patient's significant others. The way in which family members and significant others respond to the depressed patient, in turn, influences the course and outcome of the depressive episode [1]. While many family members cope well when a member becomes depressed [2,3], others experience significant distress themselves and inadvertently exacerbate the patient's depression, decrease the likelihood of recovery, and increase the probability of recurrence [2-5]. It therefore makes good clinical sense to include the family as part of evaluating and treating depressed patients.

There are psychoeducation, systems, emotion focused, and cognitive-behavioral therapy family therapies. They all share the two-fold aim of modifying negative interactional patterns and promoting supportive aspects of dyadic relationships, to change the interpersonal context linked to depression [6].

This topic reviews the use of family assessments and family therapy for treating depression in adult patients. An overview of all options available for treating depression is discussed separately. (See "Unipolar major depression in adults: Choosing initial treatment".)


Every depressed patient can benefit from an assessment with their significant others during which the clinician evaluates the:

Patient's social situation

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Mar 30, 2017.
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