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The Emperor's New Drugs

Antidepressants and the Placebo Effect

About this course

Irving Kirsch, PhD, with Harvard Medical School's Program in Placebo Studies, reviews the ways in which studies of antidepressant medications have been flawed in both design and interpretation and describes how this has affected the FDA drug approval process and the ways in which the placebo effect accounts for many of the positive effects of the drugs. He concludes by reviewing the research literature for evidence of what does work in the treatment of depression.

Note for professionals: This lecture does not currently provide continuing education.

Course fee

This course is for free. If you find this course useful, please consider making a donation to help support our work.


Your Instructor


Irving Kirsch is Associate Director of the Program in Placebo Studies and lecturer in medicine at the Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is also Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Plymouth (UK), and University of Hull (UK), and University of Connecticut (US). He has published 10 books and more than 250 scientific journal articles and book chapters on placebo effects, antidepressant medication, hypnosis, and suggestion. He originated the concept of response expectancy. His meta-analyses on the efficacy of antidepressants have been covered extensively in the international media and have influenced official guidelines for the treatment of depression in the United Kingdom.

Class Curriculum


  The Emperor's New Drugs: Antidepressants and the Placebo Effect
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Learning objectives

  • To understand the power of placebo.
  • To be aware of meta-analytic findings on the efficacy of antidepressants.
  • To understand the distinction between clinical importance and statistical significance.
  • To consider the balance of risks and benefits of antidepressants and other treatment for depression.

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