Evaluating Psychotherapy

Learning Objectives

  • Compare and evaluate various forms of psychotherapy

Evaluating Various Forms of Psychotherapy

How can we assess the effectiveness of psychotherapy? Is one technique more effective than another? For anyone considering therapy, these are important questions. According to the American Psychological Association, three factors work together to produce successful treatment. The first is the use of evidence-based treatment that is deemed appropriate for your particular issue. The second important factor is the clinical expertise of the psychologist or therapist. The third factor is your own characteristics, values, preferences, and culture. Many people begin psychotherapy feeling like their problem will never be resolved; however, psychotherapy helps people see that they can do things to make their situation better. Psychotherapy can help reduce a person’s anxiety, depression, and maladaptive behaviors. Through psychotherapy, individuals can learn to engage in healthy behaviors designed to help them better express emotions, improve relationships, think more positively, and perform more effectively at work or school. In discussing therapeutic orientations, it is important to note that many clinicians incorporate techniques from multiple approaches, a practice known as integrative or eclectic psychotherapy.

Two people having a conversation in a library.

Figure 1. Therapy comes in many different forms and settings, but one critical factor in its success is the relationship between the therapist and client.

Consider the following advantages and disadvantages of some of the major forms of psychotherapy:

  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis was once the only type of psychotherapy available, but presently the number of therapists practicing this approach is decreasing around the world. Psychoanalysis is not appropriate for some types of patients, including those with severe psychopathology or mental retardation. Further, psychoanalysis is often expensive because treatment usually lasts many years. Still, some patients and therapists find the prolonged and detailed analysis very rewarding.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: CBT interventions tend to be relatively brief, making them cost-effective for the average consumer. In addition, CBT is an intuitive treatment that makes logical sense to patients. It can also be adapted to suit the needs of many different populations. One disadvantage, however, is that CBT does involve significant effort on the patient’s part, because the patient is an active participant in treatment. Therapists often assign “homework” (e.g., worksheets for recording one’s thoughts and behaviors) between sessions to maintain the cognitive and behavioral habits the patient is working on. The greatest strength of CBT is the abundance of empirical support for its effectiveness.
  • Humanistic Therapy: One key advantage of person-centered therapy is that it is highly acceptable to patients. In other words, people tend to find the supportive, flexible environment of this approach very rewarding. Furthermore, some of the themes of PCT translate well to other therapeutic approaches. For example, most therapists of any orientation find that clients respond well to being treated with nonjudgmental empathy.

Many studies have explored the effectiveness of psychotherapy. For example, one large-scale study that examined 16 meta-analyses of CBT reported that it was equally effective or more effective than other therapies in treating PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and social phobia (Butlera, Chapmanb, Formanc, & Becka, 2006). Another study found that CBT was as effective at treating depression (43% success rate) as prescription medication (50% success rate) compared to the placebo rate of 25% (DeRubeis et al., 2005). Another meta-analysis found that psychodynamic therapy was also as effective at treating these types of psychological issues as CBT (Shedler, 2010). However, no studies have found one psychotherapeutic approach more effective than another (Abbass, Kisely, & Kroenke, 2006; Chorpita et al., 2011), nor have they shown any relationship between a client’s treatment outcome and the level of the clinician’s training or experience (Wampold, 2007). Regardless of which type of psychotherapy an individual chooses, one critical factor that determines the success of treatment is the person’s relationship with the psychologist or therapist.

Watch It

Review each of the types of psychotherapy you’ve learned about in this lesson in the following CrashCourse video.

You can view the transcript for “Getting Help – Psychotherapy: Crash Course Psychology #35” here (opens in new window).

Try It

Glossary

eclectic psychotherapy: also called integrative psychotherapy, this term refers to approaches combining multiple orientations (e.g., CBT with psychoanalytic elements).

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