Psychotherapy: Art or Science?
In recent weeks, several articles have appeared previewing the work to be published in November’s Psychological Science in the Public Interest. In this article, the authors allege that the majority of psychotherapists fail to use empirically validated treatments. Furthermore they suggest that millions of people are getting therapy based on the personal theories of their therapists rather than on the substantial research studies that support specific types of therapy for specific problems. Many of the strategies that the authors refer to are based on the premises of cognitive and behavioral theory but a few other approaches have received some empirical validation.
I have a couple of reactions to this news. First, there are effective treatments for emotional disorders such as depression, anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. In fact, we regularly write about these treatments in this blog. If your therapist can’t identify what he or she is going to do to help you, find another therapist.
Imagine going to a medical doctor for severe headaches who tells you that she plans on meeting with you once a week, talking about your headaches and giving you lots of attention. For that, you’ll hand her some money and your headaches should improve. You’d likely run from her office. A psychologist, like a medical provider, should be able to describe a way to diagnose and treat your symptoms. Of course, in order to benefit from the plan, you must participate in the treatment.
Second, beginning with my bachelor’s and master’s degree at Wayne State University I was trained in the theory and principles of cognitive behavioral therapy. In fact, I can remember the professors making fun of penis envy in my introduction to psychology class (circa 1970). This training continued for another master’s and Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Fielding Graduate University. Like all licensed psychologists, I update my skills through continuing education. Most of the offerings I have attended over the years are focused on evidence based treatments. I often attend workshops given by the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, a national organization that advances training and research related to cognitive behavioral practices. Again, not all of treatments that work are necessarily cognitive behavioral, but the majority of them are. My point is not that cognitive behavioral strategies are the only ones that work, but if your psychotherapist has not been trained in using empirically based methods, I wonder where the heck his head has been for the last 40 years!
Smith, L. (2009). Psychotherapy: Art or Science?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 28, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/anxiety/2009/11/psychotherapy-art-or-science/