Yum, sugar pills! We talk about them all the time in science, where they have a much more formal and less appetizing name — placebos.
A placebo is simply something used in research to act as a treatment equivalent, so as to not bias either the research subjects or the researchers themselves in how they perceive and react to the experimental treatment. In research on drugs, this often means giving one group of patients pills that look just like the medicine being studied, but lacking any active ingredient.
In recent years, new research has emerged looking solely at the studies that were used to gain FDA approval of antidepressant medications (some of which were never published). When taken together, the studies found that antidepressant medications may not be as effective as previously thought (but what any patient who’s ever tried them could’ve told us decades ago). This recent research found effect sizes of just 0.31.
Which got some researchers to wonder… If antidepressant drug treatment effect sizes might be lower than we had thought, could the same be true for psychotherapy effect sizes too?
Could, in fact, a sugar pill offer as much change in one’s depression as months or years of intensive psychotherapy?