Ketamine has emerged as a rapid-acting antidepressant. While ongoing treatment can prevent relapse, concerns exist regarding long-term exposure.
We conducted a randomized trial to examine the feasibility and efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) following intravenous ketamine in treatment-resistant depression (TRD).
Subjects with TRD were recruited and treated with 6 intravenous infusions of ketamine over 3 weeks. Subjects who experienced a clinical response (≥50% improvement in depression severity) were then randomized to receiving CBT or treatment as usual (TAU) for an additional 14 weeks, using a sequential treatment model.
Of the 42 patients who signed consent, 28 patients achieved a response and were randomized to CBT or TAU. When measured using the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (primary outcome measure), the effect size at the end of the study was moderate (Cohen d = 0.65; 95% CI -0.55 to 1.82), though the group-by-time interaction effect was not significant. There was a significant group-by-time interaction as measured by the Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology (F = 4.58; p = 0.033), favoring a greater sustained improvement in the CBT group. This corresponded to a moderate-to-large effect size of the Cohen d = 0.71 (95% CI -0.30 to 1.70) at the end of the study (14 weeks following the last ketamine infusion). In a subset of patients (N = 20) who underwent cognitive testing using the emotional N-back assessments before and after ketamine, ketamine responders showed improvement in the accuracy of emotional N-back (t[8] = 2.33; p < 0.05) whereas nonresponders did not (t[10] <1; p ns).
This proof-of-concept study provides preliminary data indicating that CBT may sustain the antidepressant effects of ketamine in TRD. Further study and optimization of this treatment approach in well-powered clinical trials is recommended.

© 2021 S. Karger AG, Basel.