Do Cognitive Therapy Skills Neutralize Lifetime Stress to Improve Treatment Outcomes in Recurrent Depression?

Jeffrey R. Vittengl, Sonja Stutzman, Aparna Atluru, Robin B. Jarrett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Cognitive therapy (CT) is an efficacious treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD), but not all patients respond. Past research suggests that stressful life events (SLE; e.g., childhood maltreatment, emotional and physical abuse, relationship discord, physical illness) sometimes reduce the efficacy of depression treatment, whereas greater acquisition and use of CT skills may improve patient outcomes. In a sample of 276 outpatient participants with recurrent MDD, we tested the hypothesis that patients with more SLE benefit more from CT skills in attaining response and remaining free of relapse/recurrence. Patients with more pretreatment SLE did not develop weaker CT skills, on average, but were significantly less likely to respond to CT. However, SLE predicted non-response only for patients with relatively weak skills, and not for those with stronger CT skills. Similarly, among acute-phase responders, SLE increased risk for MDD relapse/recurrence among patients with weaker CT skills. Thus, the combination of more SLE and weaker CT skills forecasted negative outcomes. These novel findings are discussed in the context of improving CT for depression among patients with greater lifetime history of SLE and require replication before clinical application.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)739-752
Number of pages14
JournalBehavior Therapy
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2020


  • cognitive therapy
  • depression
  • relapse
  • skills
  • stressful life events

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology


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