Abnormal Psychology: Mental Health and Mental Illness


What did a 1995 Consumer Reports survey say about the effectiveness of psychotherapy?

In 1995 the magazine Consumer Reports published a large study on the effects of psychotherapy. The mental health questionnaire was sent out as part of a larger study polling readers on their opinions of appliances and services. Out of the 180,000 people sent the questionnaire, 22,000 responded and 7,000 answered the mental health questions. Of these, 3,000 people had discussed emotional problems with family, friends, or clergy; 4,100 had turned to some combination of mental health professionals, support groups, or family physicians; and 2,900 had consulted a mental health professional, most frequently a psychologist (37%), psychiatrist (22%), or social worker (14%).

The survey showed very positive results for psychotherapy when provided by a trained mental health professional. Ninety percent of those who felt very poor or fairly poor at the start of treatment reported feeling very good, good, or at least so-so at the time of the survey. Moreover, people who stayed in therapy longer did better. People treated by psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers did better than those treated by other professionals, and the difference was larger over time. No specific type of therapy worked better than any other.

It is important to note, however, that this is a very different kind of study than most psychotherapy research. Most psychotherapy studies are highly controlled efficacy studies, with fixed length therapies, manualized treatments, and specific criteria for selecting patients. This effectiveness study is much less controlled but much more representative of the real world. Patients pick their own therapists, present with all manner of problems, and stay in therapy as long as they and their therapist agree to continue. Moreover the therapist can tailor the treatment to the patient, which might account for the lack of difference between types of treatments. If a treatment is not working, the therapist may have switched to another approach.


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