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Psychotherapy: It works, if you can get it

August 9, 2012
by Dennis Grantham
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APA resolution recognizes psychotherapy's effectiveness, as seen in dozens of studies, even as payers continue to push meds instead.

Psychotherapy is effective, helps reduce the overall need for health services and produces long-term health improvements, according to a review of research studies conducted by the American Psychological Association.

Yet, the use of psychotherapy to treat people with mental and behavioral health issues decreased over the last decade while the use of medications to address such problems has increased, according to government and insurance industry data.

“Every day, consumers are bombarded with ads that tout drugs as the answer to their problems. Our goal is to help consumers weigh those messages with research-based information about how psychotherapy can provide them with safe, effective and long-lasting improvements in their mental and physical health,” said Melba J. T. Vazquez, PhD, the APA's past president, who led the psychotherapy effectiveness review project.

As a result of the effectiveness review project, the Association’s Council of Representatives last week adopted a resolution on psychotherapy effectiveness. The resolution cites more than 50 peer-reviewed studies on psychotherapy and its effectiveness in treating a spectrum of health issues and with a variety of populations, including children, members of minority groups and the elderly. 

The resolution also states Key findings of the resolution:

  • Research demonstrates that psychotherapy is effective for a variety of mental and behavioral health issues and across a spectrum of population groups. The average effects of psychotherapy are larger than the effects produced by many medical treatments. 
  • Large multi-site and meta-analytic studies have demonstrated that psychotherapy reduces disability, morbidity and mortality; improve work functioning; and decrease psychiatric hospitalization.
  • Psychotherapy teaches patients life skills that last beyond the course of treatment. The results of psychotherapy tend to last longer than psychopharmacological treatments and rarely produce harmful side effects
  • While medication is appropriate in some instances, research shows that a combination of medication and psychotherapy is often most effective in treating depression and anxiety. It should also be noted that the effects produced by psychotherapy, including those for different age groups and across a spectrum of mental and physical health disorders, are often comparable to or better than the effects produced by drug treatments for the same disorders withoutthe potential for harmful side effects that drugs often carry.

“As Americans grapple with the ever-increasing cost of health care, it is important that consumers and those who make decisions about health care access understand the potential value in both improved outcomes and cost-saving of psychotherapies,” Vasquez said. “APA applauds and continues to support collaboration of psychologists with other health care providers as part of integrated health care teams. Psychotherapies are highly effective, but only when consumers have access to them.”



Studies show that between 5% and 75% of people given mental health diagnoses actually have medical conditions which can be treated without psych drugs, although most studies average nearly 40%. The use of the Koran algorithm - devised by Dr. Koran of Stanford more than 20 years ago - needs to be more widely utilized. Decades of drugs and therapy for people who actually have thyroid problems, or have consumed food containing arsenic or one of the numerous other problems which can manifest as psychological problems will do little to nothing for them, although I'll grant that some or even many people considered 'normal' could benefit from psych counselling. Reform of the mental health system is needed now - before the bureaucracy drives even more people into irrational acts. For more info see: Re-Establishing Justice & Creating a first Rate Mental health system

The information contained in the ReestabJustice report cited above is extensive--too extensive to read completely in the 10-15 minutes that I took to review it--but virtually everything I read leads me to agree with nearly all the conclusions. You won't hear any disagreement from me on these points.

I'm not nearly as conversant as the author on the many food-related toxicities noted--and their possible impacts on mental functioning--but the medical- and criminal justice-related portions ring true.