PSYCHOTHERAPY is in decline. In the United States, from 1998 to 2007, the number of patients in outpatient mental health facilities receiving psychotherapy alone fell by 34 percent, while the number receiving medication alone increased by 23 percent.Their review is here, but it costs about $200 to get behind the paywall.
This is not necessarily for a lack of interest. A recent analysis of 33 studies found that patients expressed a three-times-greater preference for psychotherapy over medications.
As well they should: for patients with the most common conditions, like depression and anxiety, empirically supported psychotherapies — that is, those shown to be safe and effective in randomized controlled trials — are indeed the best treatments of first choice. Medications, because of their potential side effects, should in most cases be considered only if therapy either doesn’t work well or if the patient isn’t willing to try counseling.
So what explains the gap between what people might prefer and benefit from, and what they get?
The answer is that psychotherapy has an image problem. Primary care physicians, insurers, policy makers, the public and even many therapists are largely unaware of the high level of research support that psychotherapy has. The situation is exacerbated by an assumption of greater scientific rigor in the biologically based practices of the pharmaceutical industries — industries that, not incidentally, also have the money to aggressively market and lobby for those practices.
For the sake of patients and the health care system itself, psychotherapy needs to overhaul its image, more aggressively embracing, formalizing and promoting its empirically supported methods.
My colleague Ivan W. Miller and I recently surveyed the empirical literature on psychotherapy in a series of papers we edited for the November edition of the journal Clinical Psychology Review. It is clear that a variety of therapies have strong evidentiary support, including cognitive-behavioral, mindfulness, interpersonal, family and even brief psychodynamic therapies (e.g., 20 sessions).
In the short term, these therapies are about as effective as medications in reducing symptoms of clinical depression or anxiety disorders. They can also produce better long-term results for patients and their family members, in that they often improve functioning in social and work contexts and prevent relapse better than medications.
If they really wanted to present evidence to the general public that psychotherapy works, then they would make the evidence freely available. I am not sure they have any evidence, as the abstracts I saw have weak claime like this:
Although there is evidence that psychotherapy does indeed work, there are also findings that there are times when our patients are harmed by our interventions.I have never been able to find any evidence that psychotherapy does more good than harm.