In honor of National Psychotherapy Day, I must beat the drum for one of the best known forms of treatment for virtually any mental illness or mental health concern — psychotherapy.
It’s a drum I’ve happily been beating since I went to grad school in the early 1990s. There I learned about the decades’ worth of research into the effectiveness of psychotherapy for virtually any disorder. Since then, I’ve been telling anyone who will listen — psychotherapy works!
And now with the implementation of the mental health parity act and the Affordable Care Act, psychotherapy will become even more affordable to anyone who wants to give it a try. So why not try it?
Psychotherapy is suffering a decline in usage in the past decade. Yet the research tells us psychotherapy is often more effective than medications in helping patients relieve the symptoms of common mental disorders, like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
As Horvath (2013) wrote earlier this year, there is no question whether psychotherapy is effective or not: “The impact of the first meta-analysis, and those that followed, was multidirectional and far-reaching. To a large extent, the question whether psychotherapy — as such — is effective is no longer debated.” Put simply — it works.
Too often today, people first turn to a medication, and then to psychotherapy. What I argued back in 2008 is still true today — psychotherapy goes along with medication. Always. For virtually every disorder, and every individual, psychotherapy will enhance and speed up the process of recovery and healing from mental illness.
Forgo psychotherapy, and you’re getting half the treatment effectiveness, which will more often than not take twice as long. I’m not just make this up… Glick (2004) cites multiple studies that clearly demonstrate psychotherapy’s value in conjunction with medication: “The Barlow et al. study on panic disorder [for instance] showed that following drug alone, about 85 percent of patients relapsed, but only 15 relapsed when they had psychotherapy plus drug.”
Psychotherapy works as a first-line treatment for many common mental disorders, including most forms of depression. Psychotherapy is effective and time-limited when wielded by an experienced therapist.
But it’s important to find the right therapist — one you can form a good, professional working relationship with. In the field, they call this forming a strong therapeutic alliance. And in such relationships, you’ll find good patient outcomes according to Horvath (2013): “One of the most important research finding is that alliance, measured as early as between the third and fifth session, is a reliable prognosticator of therapy outcome.”
Just like you may not find the right contractor when you go to build a deck on the back of your house, or the right hair stylist when you go to get a haircut, you may not find the right therapist on your first try. It’s important to recognize that the therapist works for you — so it is in your best interests to find one you feel comfortable with and helps you bring about changes in your life and thinking.
In short, psychotherapy works. So why not try it?
This post is written in honor of National Psychotherapy Day, “a day when clinicians, clients, and therapy advocates will unite to promote the profession, fight stigma, educate the public, and draw attention to the needs of community mental health.” I hope you’ll join us!
Horvath, AO. (2013). You can’t step into the same river twice, but you can stub your toes on the same rock: Psychotherapy outcome from a 50-year perspective. Psychotherapy, 50, 25-32.
Glick, ID. (2004). Adding Psychotherapy to Pharmacotherapy: Data, Benefits, and Guidelines for Integration. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 58, 186-208.