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The efficacy of primary care chaplaincy compared with antidepressants: a retrospective study comparing chaplaincy with antidepressants

  • Gordon Macdonald (a1)

To determine the effectiveness of primary care chaplaincy (PCC) when used as the sole intervention, with outcomes being compared directly with those of antidepressants. This was to be carried out in a homogenous study population reflective of certain demographics in the United Kingdom.


Increasing numbers of patients are living with long-term conditions and ‘modern maladies’ and are experiencing loss of well-being and depression. There is an increasing move to utilise non-pharmacological interventions such as ‘talking therapies’ within this context. Chaplaincy is one such ‘talking therapy’ but within primary care its evidence base is sparse with only one quantitative study to date. There is therefore a need to evaluate PCC excluding those co-prescribed antidepressants, as this is not evidenced in the literature as yet. PCC also needs to be directly compared with the use of antidepressants to justify its use as a valid alternative treatment for loss of well-being and depression.


This was a retrospective observational study based on routinely collected data. There were 107 patients in the PCC group and 106 in the antidepressant group. Socio-demographic data were collected. Their pre- and post-intervention (either chaplaincy or antidepressant) well-being was assessed, by the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (WEMWBS) which is a validated Likert scale.


The majority of both groups were female with both groups showing marked ethnic homogeneity. PCC was associated with a significant and clinically meaningful improvement in well-being at a mean follow-up of 80 days. This treatment effect was maintained after those co-prescribed antidepressants were removed. PCC was associated with an improvement in well-being similar to that of antidepressants with no significant difference between the two groups.

Corresponding author
Correspondence to: Dr Gordon Macdonald, Regent Gardens Medical Practice, 18 Union St, Kirkintilloch, Glasgow G66 1DH, UK. Email:
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Primary Health Care Research & Development
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