Thursday, March 28, 2013

Looking for Evidence That Therapy Works

Mental-health care has come a long way since the remedy of choice was trepanation — drilling holes into the skull to release “evil spirits.” Over the last 30 years, treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy and family-based treatment have been shown effective for ailments ranging from anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders. The trouble is, surprisingly few patients actually get these kinds of evidence-based treatments once they land on the couch — especially not cognitive behavioral therapy. In 2009, a meta-analysis conducted by leading mental-health researchers found that psychiatric patients in the United States and Britain rarely receive C.B.T., despite numerous trials demonstrating its effectiveness in treating common disorders. One survey of nearly 2,300 psychologists in the United States found that 69 percent used C.B.T. only part time or in combination with other therapies to treat depression and anxiety. C.B.T. refers to a number of structured, directive types of psychotherapy that focus on the thoughts behind a patient’s feelings and that often include exposure therapy and other activities. Instead, many patients are subjected to a kind of dim-sum approach — a little of this, a little of that, much of it derived more from the therapist’s biases and training than from the latest research findings. And even professionals who claim to use evidence-based treatments rarely do. The problem is called “therapist drift.” more

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