Psychotherapy Helps

by James P. David Ph.D. on March 20, 2010

Hello and welcome to my blog. In the coming weeks and months I plan to comment on issues that I believe might be of interest to you and others who find themselves on psychology-related websites. I will choose topics from popular culture and media (like the Newsweek article noted below) as well as topics I read about in psychology outlets. I hope to spark some thought and discussion while keeping my comments fairly brief. I welcome comments on your perspective and experience.

Did you see the article on antidepressants in the February 8, 2010 issue of Newsweek?  Sharon Begley wrote about some startling scientific data on antidepressant medications — including some of the most widely prescribed ones. The gist of her article: these medications work, but their benefits appear largely to reflect a placebo effect. Begley was not on a soapbox and relied heavily on scientific data.  Newsweek also published an alternative perspective article in the same issue.

I will not try to sway you one way or the other on the Newsweek article.  The issue has been actively debated and there are many online rebuts to Begley’s view. Take a look for yourself and see what you think. I do like that it promotes a discussion on an important topic because I’m a big believer in being an active and informed consumer, especially when it comes to one’s own well-being.

The Newsweek article leads me to another issue — the efficacy of psychotherapy.  For that, I do feel confident in saying that in most cases psychotherapy helps people. Of course I’m biased, but that does not negate the data out there. Of course I think of the people I know who have benefitted from the talking cure, and I’m also reminded of a Consumer Reports survey a number of years ago indicating that a majority of people who had psychotherapy believed they benefitted from it. But I also base my belief on the research showing that 1) psychotherapy is effective for a wide variety of issues, including the more prevalent ones such as depression and anxiety, 2) its effects (effect sizes) are substantial enough to be meaningful in people’s lives, and 3) its benefits endure over time. There are literally hundreds of published studies demonstrating the benefits of psychotherapy.

It also appears that the particular “brand” of therapy one receives (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, etc.) is less important than other issues such as the skill of the therapist, the motivation of the client, and the quality of the relationship between the therapist and client. In fact, the relationship may be the most important determinant of success and benefit. So what does this mean for someone considering seeking the help of a psychologist?

If you are considering psychotherapy, give it a shot. Shop around, find someone you like, and with whom you feel comfortable. There are many good therapists out there. There are even good alternatives for lower-cost therapy if money is tight. Therapy will take a substantial commitment, but I believe firmly that when you find the right therapist for you, the rewards can be substantial and enduring.

Some interesting references:

Lipsey, M. W. & Wilson, D. B. (1993). The efficacy of psychological, educational, and behavioral treatment: Confirmation from meta-analysis. American Psychologist, 48, 1181-1209.

Shedler, J. (2010). The efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy.  American Psychologist, 65, 2, 98-109.

Smith, M. L., Glass, G. V., & Miller, T. I. (1980). The benefits of psychotherapy. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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