Nomothetic and idiographic symptom change trajectories in acute-phase cognitive therapy for recurrent depression

Jeffrey R. Vittengl, Lee Anna Clark, Michael E. Thase, Robin B. Jarrett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Objective: We tested nomothetic and idiographic convergence and change in 3 symptom measures during acute-phase cognitive therapy (CT) for depression and compared outcomes among patients showing different change patterns. Method: Outpatients (N = 362; 69% women; 85% White; age M = 43 years) with recurrent major depressive disorder according to criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text rev.; American Psychiatric Association, 2000) completed the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (Hamilton, 1960), Beck Depression Inventory (Beck, Ward, Mendelson, Mock, & Erbaugh, 1961), and Inventory for Depressive Symptomatology-Self-Report (Rush, Gullion, Basco, Jarrett, & Trivedi, 1996) on 14 occasions as well as pre/post-CT measures of social-interpersonal functioning and negative cognitive content. Results: The 3 symptom measures marked the same severity and change constructs, and we offer improved formulas for intermeasure score conversions via their common factor. Pre/post-CT symptom reductions were large (ds = 1.71-1.92), and nomothetic symptom curves were log-linear (larger improvements earlier and smaller improvements later in CT). Nonetheless, only 30% of individual patients showed clear log-linear changes, whereas other patients showed linear (e.g., steady decreases; 20%), 1-step (e.g., a quick drop; 16%), and unclassified (34%) patterns. Log-linear, linear, and 1-step patients were generally similar to one another and superior to unclassified patients post-CT in symptom levels, response and stable remission rates, social-interpersonal functioning, and cognitive content (median d = 0.69). Conclusions: Reaching a low-symptom "destination" at the end of CT via any coherent "path" is more important in the short term than which path patients take. We discuss implications for theories of change, clinical monitoring of individuals' progress in CT, and the need to investigate long-term outcomes of patients with differing patterns of symptom change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)615-626
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • change pattern
  • cognitive therapy
  • major depressive disorder
  • symptom assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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