Is Psychotherapy Effective?

The Efficacy of Psychotherapy

September 1994

Marketing Department Practice Directorate

Reexamined the data of M. L. Smith et al (1980) on the benefits of psychotherapy in 475 controlled studies, using only studies of patients seeking treatment for neuroses, true phobias, and emotional-somatic complaints. The results of 81 controlled trials were integrated statistically using the meta-analytic technique. The condition of the typical patient after treatment was better than that of 77% of untreated controls measured at the same time, and the rate of relapse in the 1st 2 yrs was small. Behavior and psychodynamic verbal therapies appeared to be superior to other therapies. The relationship between severity of illness and choice of therapy is unknown, and could account for some of the differential effects, but does not vitiate this further evidence of the efficacy of psychotherapy. (94 ref)


Does psychotherapy benefit neurotic patients?

A reanalysis of the Smith, Glass, and Miller data.

Andrews, Gavin; Harvey, Robin.

Archives of General Psychiatry; 1981 Nov Vol 38(11) 1203-1208

Results of 375 controlled evaluations of psychotherapy and counseling were coded and integrated statistically. The findings provide convincing evidence of the efficacy of psychotherapy. On the average, the typical therapy client is better off than 75% of untreated individuals. Few important differences in effectiveness could be established among many quite different types of psychotherapy. More generally, virtually no difference in effectiveness was observed between the class of all behavioral therapies (e.g., systematic desensitization and behavior modification) and the nonbehavioral therapies (e.g., Rogerian, psychodynamic, rational-emotive, and transactional analysis).


Meta-analysis of psychotherapy outcome studies.

Smith,-Mary-L.; Glass, Gene V.

American Psychologist; 1977 Sep Vol 32(9) 752-760

Discusses the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), an agency of the US Congress, which was established in 1972 to aid legislators in understanding the impacts of technology and to provide science-based information on legislative problems. The process used by OTA in conducting assessments of psychotherapy is described. OTA's report on psychotherapy, entitled 'The Efficacy and Cost-Effectiveness of Psychotherapy,' concluded that psychotherapy is effective. However, the report also indicated that the field of psychotherapy is relatively new and that only in recent years has substantial data been accumulated. (20 ref)


Reimbursement for psychotherapy: Linking efficacy research and public policymaking.

Banta, H. David; Saxe, Leonard. US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Washington, DC,

American Psychologist; 1983 Aug Vol 38(8) 918-923

Applied meta-analysis to 475 studies of the effectiveness of psychotherapy and 112 studies of the comparative effects of psychotherapy and psychoactive drugs. The studies' effect sizes were examinedthe standard mean difference on the outcome variable between the treated group. Since many studies had more than 1 outcome variable, the 475 studies actually produced 1,766 effect sizes. Meta-analysis showed that psychotherapy is effective in enhancing psychological well-being, regardless of the way it is measured by researchers. The patient's age and diagnosis, the therapist's training and experience, and the duration and mode of therapy bear little relation to the psychotherapy's outcome. Behavioral therapies are somewhat more effective than verbal ones, and drug therapy, while combining well with psychotherapy, is not more effective than psychotherapy alone. (23 ref)


What research says about the effectiveness of psychotherapy.

Smith, Mary L.

Hospital and Community Psychiatry; 1982 Jun Vol 33(6) 457-461

While modern psychotherapies have often demonstrated a significant degree of effectiveness, in that they help clients overcome their presenting symptoms, their degree of 'efficiency' may not measure up to their 'effectiveness.' Efficiency in psychotherapy includes several issues that are often neglected in research on 'effectiveness.' These criteria include such ingredients as depth-centeredness, pervasiveness, extensiveness, thoroughgoingness, maintenance of therapeutic progress, preventive psychotherapy, minimization of therapeutic harm, and encouragement of scientific flexibility. It is contended that these aspects of psychotherapy are of profound importance to therapists and clients and that such aspects should be consciously included as values in psychotherapy. (31 ref)


The value of efficiency in psychotherapy.

Ellis, Albert. Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice;

1980 Win Vol 17(4) 414-419

Examined 75 studies, published between 1952 and 1983, in which children who received psychotherapy were compared with controls or children receiving another form of treatment. Only those studies using Ss younger than a mean age of 13 yrs at the time of treatment were included. Exceptions to the age limitation were made only if separate analyses for younger children were reported or if individual data from older Ss could be eliminated. Results show that therapy with children was similar in effectiveness to therapy with adults; treated children achieved outcomes about two-thirds of a standard deviation better than untreated children. Although behavioral treatments appeared to be more effective than nonbehavioral treatments, this apparent superiority was due largely to the types of outcome and target problems included in behavioral studies. No differences in outcome were found to result from other treatment characteristics such as the use of play in therapy or the administration of treatment individually or in groups. The evidence suggests that previous doubts about the overall efficacy of psychotherapy with children can be laid to rest. A bibliography of the studies examined is appended. (17 ref)


The outcome of psychotherapy with children.

Casey, Rita J.; Berman, Jeffrey S. Psychological Bulletin;

1985 Sep Vol 98(2) 388-400

Examined the outcome of psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy administered to 50 15-54 yr olds who presented with a variety of syndromes, including personality disorders, anxiety/somatoform disorders, psychotic disorders, psychosexual disorders, and bulimia. Ss and 16 nontreatment controls (aged 16-38 yrs) were evaluated 4 mo postintake. MMPI scores, target symptoms, global evaluation, and other clinical evaluations were used as outcome measures. Findings show that Ss who underwent therapy improved significantly more than controls on subjective and objective parameters. The efficacy of psychotherapy and the relative spontaneous improvement of untreated Ss are discussed. (20 ref)


Evaluation of psychoanalytic psychotherapy outcome.

Manos, Nikolas; Vasilopoulou, E. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica;

1984 Jul Vol 70(1) 28-35

Discusses efforts made by the US Congress in the late 1970's and early 1980's to explore the extent to which those seeking psychotherapeutic services could be assured that the care they would receive would be beneficial. It is contended that psychology, psychiatry, and the mental health field have presented few summary statements to guide the educated consumer or enlightened 3rd-party payers in decision making about mental health care. The mental health field is still young, and there has been insufficient time to evaluate the efficacy of all forms of therapy for all the problems for which patients/clients seek help. But the knowledge gained from clinical experience can be used in a tentative fashion to direct more rigorous empirical investigation. (12 ref)


Psychotherapyis it safe, effective, and appropriate?

The beginning of an evolutionary dialogue.

DeLeon, Patrick H.; VandenBos, Gary R.; Cummings, Nicholas A.

American Psychologist; 1983 Aug Vol 38(8) 907-911

Hypothesized that outpatient psychotherapy in a mental health center would result in an improvement rate of 65% or more, a spontaneous remission rate of 36% or less, and a difference of at least 29% from gain in improvement due to therapy. An analysis of 201 follow-up questionnaires completed by adult outpatients during 1967 and 1970 supported all 3 hypotheses. A 5-yr follow-up questionnaire provided evidence for external validity in the form of a correlation between original improvement rate and subsequent need for outpatient treatment and inpatient treatment. Results are interpreted as significant evidence for the efficacy of psychotherapy and for the validity of the self-report method of measuring improvement and spontaneous remission. (9 ref)


Research note: A self-report measure of

spontaneous remission and psychotherapy outcome.

Chadwell, Buddy H.; Howell, Robert J.

Journal of Community Psychology; 1979 Jan Vol 7(1) 69-71

Discusses research published between 1980 and 1984 regarding the treatment of adults by a range of individual psychosocial therapies. The contradiction between increased conceptual and methodological sophistication and increased skepticism regarding the scientific merit of positive research findings in the field of psychotherapy is examined. Efficacy research findings are discussed through a critique of global outcome surveys via meta-analysis and studies of particular therapies for specific problems/disorders according to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) and behavioral medicine categories (e.g., depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, alcoholism). Issues and trends with regard to therapy manuals, brief therapies, clinical trials, placebos and specificity of effects, theory development and integration, and koans are also discussed. (6 p ref)


Individual psychotherapy and behavior change.

Parloff, Morris B.; London, Perry; Wolfe, Barry.

Annual Review of Psychology; 1986 Vol 37 321-349

Considers design issues and strategies by comparative outcome studies, including the conceptualization, implementation, and evaluation of alternative treatments; assessment of treatment-specific processes and outcomes; and evaluation of the results. It is argued that addressing these and other issues may increase the yield from comparative outcome studies and may attenuate controversies regarding the adequacy of the demonstrations. (64 ref)


Comparative outcome studies of psychotherapy: Methodological issues and strategies.

Special Issue: Psychotherapy research.

Kazdin, Alan E.

Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology; 1986 Feb Vol 54(1) 95-105

Applied probit analysis to 15 sets of data to specify the relationship between length of treatment and patient benefit. Data were based on more than 2,400 patients, covering a period of over 30 yrs of research. The probit model resulted in a good fit to these data, and the results were consistent across the studies, allowing for a meta-analytic pooling that provided estimates of the expected benefits of specific 'doses' of psychotherapy. Analysis indicated that by 8 sessions approximately 50% of patients were measurably improved, and approximately 75% were improved by 26 sessions. Further analyses showed differential responsiveness for different diagnostic groups and for different outcome criteria. Findings hold promise for establishing empirical guidelines for peer review and 3rd-party financial support of psychotherapy. (30 ref)


The dose-effect relationship in psychotherapy.

Special Issue: Psychotherapy research.

Howard,-Kenneth-I.; Kopta,-S.-Mark; Krause,-Merton-S.; Orlinsky,-David-E.

American-Psychologist; 1986 Feb Vol 41(2) 159-164

Argues that the American Psychological Association's (APA; 1979) review of several studies on the cost-effectiveness of psychotherapy does not consider viable alternative interpretations or qualify findings in line with the studies' substantial limitations (e.g., their lack of controls for regression or selection biases). It is suggested that in light of the financial contingencies surrounding conclusions about the effectiveness of psychotherapy, special care must be taken to ensure that psychology's public stance on the value of psychotherapy contains the qualifications suggested by the scientific evidence. Public statements by the APA on the effectiveness of psychotherapy might be based on a review of the scientific merits of pertinent studies by an independent body of research methodologists. (17 ref)


'Psychology as a health care profession':

How healthy was APA's case for the cost-effectiveness of psychological health care?

Belden,-Brian-D.; Braukmann,-Curtis-J.; Wolf,-Montrose-M. Psychological-Reports;

1985 Apr Vol 56(2) 391-401

Conducted a randomized, controlled trial in which 92 neurotic patients (mainly phobics and obsessive-compulsives) in primary care were assigned to behavioral psychotherapy from a nurse therapist (NT) or to routine care from their general practitioner (GP). 29 Ss remained in the NT group and 37 in the GP group after 1 yr. An economic questionnaire was returned by 22 NT Ss and 28 GP Ss. At the end of 1 yr, clinical outcome was significantly better in Ss cared for by the NT. Economic outcome to 1 yr, compared with the year before entering the trial, showed a slight decrease in the use of resources by the NT group and an increase in resource usage in the GP-treated group that were mainly due to the latter's increased absence from work and more hospital treatment and drugs. On the reasonable assumptions that NTs treat 46 patients a year and that such patients treated behaviorally maintain their gains for 2 yrs, the economic benefits to society from NTs treating such patients may outweigh the costs. This excludes any monetary value on the substantial clinical gains such as reduction in fear and anxiety. However, the numbers were small, few economic differences were significant, and many Ss either did not complete the trial or waiting-list periods or they failed to return economic data. It is suggested that conclusions must be tempered with caution, even though pretreatment demographic and clinical data of nonreturners were comparable with those of returners and the few dropouts who could be rated at 1 yr had not improved. (38 ref)


Cost-benefit analysis of a controlled trial of nurse therapy for neuroses in primary care.

Ginsberg,-Gary; Marks,-Isaac; Waters,-Helena.

Psychological-Medicine; 1984

Meta-analysis has been widely adopted as a quantitative approach to reviewing and evaluating a body of literature. The present article discusses the utility of meta-analysis in the context of the evaluation of psychotherapy. Benefits and limitations of meta-analysis are highlighted to identify essential characteristics of the approach as a methodological tool. The major focus is an exploration of meta-analysis in relation to alternative design and data evaluation strategies within clinical psychology. The unique contributions of meta-analysis are discussed. Fundamental issues and assumptions about psychotherapy research are identified to point to the need for critical (and qualitative) evaluation of existing meta-analyses. (48 ref)


The role of meta-analysis in the evaluation of psychotherapy.

Special Issue: Meta-analysis and clinical psychology.


Clinical-Psychology-Review; 1985 Vol 5(1) 49-61

Describes and critically evaluates studies on individual, group, and family therapy that were published largely from 1967 through 1977. Of 33 independent investigations, 5 are judged as exemplary in methodological scope and rigor. Although methodological deficiencies abound, the greater weight of available evidence on adolescents does point toward the superiority of psychotherapy over no-therapy conditions, with the median rate of positive outcome with psychotherapy being approximately 75%, compared with a rate of 39% without psychotherapy. Little is presently known, however, regarding the effects of specific patient, therapist, and process variables on adolescent therapy outcome. (56 ref)


Critical review of research on psychotherapy outcome with adolescents: 1967-1977.


Annual-Progress-in-Child-Psychiatry-and-Child-Development; 1981 521-550

176 psychiatric inpatients were randomly assigned either to 1 of 3 group therapy programs or to a no-treatment control group. Patient diagnoses and initial level of psychological disturbance were included as potential predictor variables. Outcome was assessed by the SCL-90 (Revised) administered at the time of Ss' admission, at discharge, and again 10-18 mo later and by ward ratings of patient behavior and by discharge ratings. The 3 group therapy programs were based on (1) an interactive, process-oriented group format; (2) an expressive-experiential-oriented group format; and (3) a behaviorally oriented group format. Both group process and therapist compliance were closely monitored. Results suggest that after artifactual and milieu effects were accounted for, a systematic deterioration effect occurred among patients exposed to the expressive-experiential group. The process-oriented program tended to produce the best results, which were maintained at follow-up 13 mo later. Results are discussed in terms of the short-term, crisis-oriented nature of the inpatient program, the experience levels of the participating group therapists, and the nature of the group therapies. (16 ref)


Comparative effects of group psychotherapies in a short-term inpatient setting:

An experience with deterioration effects.

Beutler,-Larry-E.; et-al

Psychiatry; 1984 Feb Vol 47(1) 66-76

Discusses the importance of empirical evaluations of health and mental health procedures to providing the highest quality of care and to reimbursing the most appropriate and efficient techniques. The National Center for Health Care Technology, during its brief existence, provided the federal government with a mechanism for making such assessments. The now-abandoned plans for the assessment of psychotherapy are described. (8 ref)


The National Center for Health Care Technology: Assessment of psychotherapy for policymaking.


American-Psychologist; 1983 Aug Vol 38(8) 924-928

Surveys recent issues and findings about clinical interventions, focusing on those aimed at the individual client. Developments in individual psychotherapy practice (including psychoanalysis, behavior therapies, European imagery methods, and assertiveness and vicarious rehearsal procedures), health psychology and behavioral medicine, and evaluations of psychotherapy effectiveness are reviewed. It is concluded that psychotherapy as a form of clinical intervention is thriving, and its practice is becoming more problem-focused and amenable to evaluation. The move toward cognitive behavior therapies has integrated psychodynamic components with techniques of behavior therapies. The most important development is seen as being the increasing overlap between therapy practice and the basic research areas of psychology; clinical practice may represent the best empirical knowledge in the study of cognition, emotion, personality, and social psychology. (55 ref)


Clinical intervention: New developments in methods and evaluation.


Stanley-Hall-Lecture-Series; 1981 Vol 1 101-128

Randomly assigned 44 outpatient enrollees of a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) to 1 of 3 treatment modalities: (1) a cognitive behavior therapy group, (2) a traditional process-oriented interpersonal group, and (3) cognitive behavior therapy in an individual format. All Ss were referred by their physicians for treatment for anxiety and/or depression. The Beck Depression Inventory, the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and the Adult Self-Expression Scale (an assertion measure) were administered pre- and post- treatment on the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. All 3 experimental groups significantly improved on all dependent measures from pre- to posttreatment, and no differential treatment effects were found. (12 ref)


Cost effectiveness of individual vs. group cognitive behavior therapy

for problems of depression and anxiety in an HMO population.

Shapiro,-Joan; Sank,-Lawrence-I.; Shaffer,-Carolyn-S.; Donovan,-Donna-C.

Journal-of-Clinical-Psychology; 1982 Jul Vol 38(3) 674-677

In Ontario, there have been threats to restrict psychotherapy benefits. The Ontario Medical Association has rejected such restrictions and prepared an internal brief that was largely devoid of cost-benefit studies. The present article reviews traditional psychotherapy outcome studies, which show that psychotherapy is more effective than placebo, long-term psychotherapy is as effective as brief, and limited hard data are available as to the effectiveness of the psychotherapies. Cost-benefit studies show that brief psychotherapy is cost effective, while long-term psychotherapy clearly reduces hospitalization costs. Psychotherapy costs in Ontario pertaining to psychiatrists do not support any evidence of abuse by either consumer or provider. It is suggested that cost-benefit studies be instituted in Ontario and that peer review be considered. (25 ref)


Psychotherapy, benefits and costs.

Lesser,-A.-L. Psychiatric-Journal-of-the-University-of-Ottawa;

1979 Jun Vol 4(2) 191-196

Reports on the work of a 5-member clinic team who studied the effect of several forms of treatment of various psychiatric disorders of children. The sample of 151 Ss (101 males and 50 females) did not include psychotics or those of subnormal intelligence. The 40 most severely disordered as well as the neurotics usually received individual therapy. Ss with immature personalities often received group therapy. All patients also participated in 'ward therapy.' Medication was used only for half of the most disturbed Ss. Follow-up 1.5-2 yrs after termination of hospital treatment showed that 85% had clearly improved. The author's 1973 report (see PA, Vol 52:6149), which details methods used and factors affecting results, had found that the post-treatment environment had played the most significant role in maintaining improvement. The current study shows about equal improvement with individual and group treatment, while medication did not seem significant in terms of overall results. (11 ref)


The psychiatric treatment of pre-puberty aged children forms and results:

A study of children aged 11 to 15 treated in the Child Psychiatric Ward

of the Helsinki Children's Castle Hospital during 1966-1969.


Psychiatria-Fennica; 1975 201-207

The results of psychotherapy outcome research to date are briefly reviewed, and the reasons this research has not had greater impact on the practice of psychotherapy in mental health service agencies are presented. Sources of pressure to conduct evaluation research are enumerated. Involving mental health practitioners in field research is proposed as a means of increasing the relevance of psychotherapy outcome research to service personnel. Difficulties frequently encountered in the planning, data gathering, and implementation of results phases of evaluation projects are discussed, and recommendations are made for ameliorating these problems. An improvement-oriented feedback model of program evaluation is presented, and the value of individualized measurement, repeated-measures designs, and experimental case studies in maximizing the utilization of research results are discussed. (86 ref)


Researching psychotherapy effectiveness in mental health service agencies.


Journal-of-Community-Psychology; 1976 Jul Vol 4(3) 215-238

A pilot study is reported of costs and benefits of behavioral psychotherapy by nurse-therapists for selected neurotic problems. Figures are based on the treatment of 42 neurotics (mainly phobics and obsessive-compulsives) who completed treatment with nurse-therapists in a mean of 9 sessions (16 hrs). The year before and after treatment was studied. Apart from significant and lasting reduction in patients' distress, economic benefits to them, their families, and the community yielded a worthwhile internal rate of return when benefits from the cohort continued for 3 yrs, a reasonable assumption based on available evidence. (16 ref)


Costs and benefits of behavioural psychotherapy:

A pilot study of neurotics treated by nurse-therapists.

Ginsberg,-Gary; Marks,-Isaac.

Psychological-Medicine; 1977 Nov Vol 7(4) 685-700

Reviews the research literature concerninng the effectiveness of group psychotherapy and the characteristics of client and therapist which promote or hinder a successful outcome. Issues considered include therapy casualties, evaluation of outcome, similarity of cognitive style between patient and therapist, positive confrontation, pregroup preparation of patients, duration and frequency of treatment, group cohesiveness and composition, therapist's behavioral characteristics, and patient's sociological characteristics. A therapist's behavior is considered more important than his belief system. (2 p ref)


A soft-hearted review of hard-nosed research on groups.


International-Journal-of-Group-Psychotherapy; 1975 Apr Vol 25(2) 185-197

Evaluated progress of 62 phobic children 1 and 2 yrs after termination of treatment or waiting period. 80% were either symptom free or significantly improved; only 7% still had a severe phobia. Successfully treated Ss tended to remain symptom free and to be free from other deviant behaviors as well. 60% of the failures at termination continued to receive treatment and most were symptom free 2 yrs later. After 2 yrs, the effects of the original psychotherapy and reciprocal inhibition therapy no longer were related to outcome. However, age, status at the end of treatment, and time were related to outcome. Results are discussed in terms of the nature of child phobia and implications for research.


Phobic children one and two years posttreatment.

Hampe,-Edward; Noble,-Helen; Miller,-Lovick-C.; Barrett,-Curtis-L.

Journal-of-Abnormal-Psychology; 1973 Dec Vol. 82(3) 446-453

Reviews 6 meta-analyses (e.g., M. L. Smith et al (1980); L. Prioleau et al (1983)) on the efficacy, or lack thereof, of psychotherapy and the differential effectiveness of some schools of therapy as compared to other schools. General criticisms of the meta-analytic technique are offered, with references made to those studies that best exemplify these faults. Conclusions are drawn about both the meta-analytic strategy itself and the lessons that have been learned about the practice of psychotherapy from these quantitative reviews. Suggestions for resolving persistent meta-analytic problems and for future research directions in psychotherapy are offered.


A review of meta-analyses conducted on psychotherapy outcome research.


Clinical-Psychology-Review; 1987 Vol 7(1) 1-23

Discusses the tremendous growth that has occurred in the number of mental health providers, the rate of use of mental health services, and public and private reimbursement for mental health care. Governmental policymakers and leading insurance officials continue to seek information regarding the appropriateness and efficacy of specific psychotherapeutic techniques with various types of presenting problems. The efforts during the Carter administration to stimulate additional efficacy research and knowledge synthesis regarding the efficacy of psychotherapy are described. A public policy proposal is forwarded that no form of health interventionphysical or mentalshould be supported through 3rd-party reimbursement and publicly supported training programs unless it has been demonstrated to be safe and effective. It is argued that randomized controlled clinical trials should be viewed as the most valid, though not exclusive, source of evidence. (10 ref)


The efficacy of psychotherapy as the basis for public policy.


American-Psychologist; 1983 Aug Vol 38(8) 929-934

Examined the effects of maintenance treatment on social adjustment in 150 25-60 yr old female depressed outpatients randomly assigned to 8 mo of amitriptyline hydrochloride, a placebo, or no pill, with or without psychotherapy, using a 2 * 3 factorial design. The Social Adjustment Scale by E. S. Paykel et al (1971) was used as a change measure. Results for the 106 patients who completed the trial show a significant main effect for Psychotherapy apparent only after 6-8 wks of treatment. Psychotherapy improved overall adjustment, work performance, and communication, and reduced friction and anxious rumination. There was no effect on the patients' social adjustment for amitriptyline, and there were no drug-psychotherapy interactions. Results support the value of weekly maintenance psychotherapy in recovering depressives. Since amitriptyline reduced relapse and prevented symptom return, and psychotherapy enhanced adjustment, there is evidence for combined treatments. Treatment effects on the social adjustment of depressed patients. Weissman,-Myrna-M.,; et-al. Archives-of-General-Psychiatry; 1974 Jun Vol. 30(6) 771-778