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In The News

Depression lifts with talking cure
7th August 2005
By Peter Ellingsen
Publication: The Age
© The Age. Reproduced by Permission

As a 16-year-old, Sally Manning was so depressed she could not get out of bed. She skipped VCE classes and eventually got so down she tried to take her life. Fortunately, the overdose did not succeed, and she was taken to Angliss Hospital in Ferntree Gully.

The treatment there, like that recommended by her GP, was mainly anti-depressant drugs, which made her vomit. She felt like a vegetable, paralysed, parcelled up and without anyone who understood her. It was pretty desperate and probably would have remained so had it not been for an innovative Monash University program that handed her 18 months of intensive psychotherapy. The talking cure, as it is often called, usually costs $110 a session; money that she and her family could not afford. But, she says, it saved her life, allowing her to untangle many of the knots that had kept her bewildered and stuck in a cycle of sadness.

Now 21, and in a stable job and relationship, she does not think she will regress. Talking through issues with her therapist, Andrea O'Byrne, helped her unravel her addiction to abusive relationships. "The doctors and psychiatrists told me what to do," she said. "But with Andrea, I didn't feel I was being judged. I could talk and hear myself talk and realise what was actually going on."

The psychoanalytic psychotherapy practised by Ms O'Byrne is out of fashion and hard to come by in the state system, mainly because it costs more than drugs and does not have the sort of outcomes-based evidence now in vogue.

But that could be changing. Thanks to $1.4 million from the Pratt Foundation, Monash professor of psychological medicine Bruce Tonge has been able to trial the talking cure and find signs that it works.

Nearly 40 young people have so far been given free psychotherapy and their responses matched with a control group. Professor Tonge says the findings, although incomplete, are encouraging, with most of those treated showing a response. Once the study is finished, he plans to urge the State Government to put at least one psychotherapeutically trained clinician in each of the state's child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

Ms O'Byrne backs the idea, saying that Sally could have been at risk without the program.

"Sally could easily have gone down," she said.

"And there are lots of Sallies out there. They don't see anyone because the CAMHS are so under-resourced."

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