Maternal care and paternal protection influence response to psychotherapy treatment for adult depression

Jeni Johnstone, Janet D. Carter, Suzanne E. Luty, Roger T. Mulder, Christopher M. Frampton, Peter R. Joyce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations


Background: Adverse childhood experiences of neglect, overprotection and abuse, well-recognized risk factors for the development of adult psychopathology, were examined as predictors of response to psychotherapy treatment for adults with depression. Methods: Outpatients in a randomized clinical trial of interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) completed the parental bonding instrument (PBI) at baseline to establish levels of care and protection. Childhood abuse was asked about using clinical interviews. The PBI variables were examined in tertiles while the abuse variables were categorized as none, some, and severe. Associations between these childhood adversities and treatment response were examined in those who completed the trial. Results: Of 177 outpatients with depression who were randomized, 159 completed an adequate trial of therapy. Within these 159 patients, 57% were categorized as responders to treatment. The mean percentage improvement on the MADRS was 57.7% (±31.4). Across both treatments, patients reporting intermediate levels of maternal care had the best response to treatment. Also across both treatments, the interaction effects of maternal care and paternal protection by treatment were statistically significant. Examining the two therapies independently, maternal care and paternal protection were associated with a differential response to IPT but not CBT. Reports of abuse, whether physical, emotional or sexual, did not impact treatment response. Limitations: This study examined patients who completed treatment, which may have attenuated the findings. Two categories of childhood adversity were measured although a range of other adverse childhood experiences exist. The results were from exploratory analyses and require replication. Conclusions: Maternal care, demonstrating a robust main effect across treatments, appears to be the childhood variable most strongly associated with response to psychotherapy in this sample. In addition, maternal care and paternal protection were associated with a differential response to treatment. These results suggest that the quality of on-going intra-familial relationships has a greater impact on treatment response than experiences of abuse. The findings may aid clinicians in selecting which psychotherapy to use, depending on a patient's childhood history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-229
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1 2013
Externally publishedYes



  • CBT
  • Childhood neglect
  • IPT
  • Maternal protection
  • Parental protection
  • PBI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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