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Effectiveness of Therapy

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Effectiveness of Therapy

Do people still lie on a couch in therapy? Do they talk deeply about their feelings? Does it even work?

  • What is psychotherapy?
  • What are different forms of therapy?
  • How do we know if a therapy is effective?
  • What therapy is effective for depression?
  • What therapy is effective for anxiety?

Effectiveness of Therapy Definition

So we've heard of the term therapy, but what is psychotherapy? Are there any differences? Does it actually work?

Psychotherapy is a mental health service that is provided by a professional. They will mainly use forms of communication and interaction to assess, diagnose, and treat behavior patterns or dysfunctional emotions.

Psychotherapy is pretty much the same as therapy! The only difference is that when you say psychotherapy, it specifically means it's relating to mental health. You could say therapy and someone might think you're going to rehab your pulled muscle, but if you say psychotherapy, someone will know it's not for a bodily muscle. There are varying forms of psychotherapy, many of which are effective for different mental health illnesses.

Effectiveness of Therapy Image of a person at a desk talking with a person lying down on a couch. StudySmarterDoes the patient still lie on a couch in therapy? pixabay.com.

How do you Measure Effectiveness?

It is important to remember when discussing the effectiveness of therapies is that it is a difficult concept to measure, as are mental health disorders in the first place. Is there a concrete way to measure this or do you have to trust what the patient says? As a clinician, can you see a change or do you base your entire diagnosis and course of therapy on what the patient tells you? Are patients getting better or is it just cognitive dissonance?

Skeptics of therapy say that patients will report that therapy improved their well-being because when they started therapy they were in such a crisis that merely since that crisis has stopped they credit their change to therapy. Skeptics also comment on the therapists' reports of the effectiveness of therapy. They say that therapists will remember the positive comments and compliments, but what about the people who left their treatment and never got better in the long run? Those ex-patients would probably not go back and tell their old therapist that it didn't work.

Keep in mind that the results from studies measuring effectiveness might not present the entire truth.

Forms of Psychotherapy

So now that we know what psychotherapy is, let's take a quick look at different forms of psychotherapy before we dive into how effective they are.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy focuses on changing unwanted behaviors. If someone changes their bad or unwanted behaviors, then they can improve.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy falls under the umbrella of behavioral therapy. It is typically used with people with phobias and anxiety disorders. In a safe environment, the person will be gradually exposed to something that they are scared or anxious of.

Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive therapy focuses on changing thoughts. If someone changes their thoughts, their behaviors can then improve.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT focuses on having someone change their thoughts, thought processes, and behaviors in order to help them with their mental health disorder. If they change the way they think about and respond to a situation, they will be better suited for it in the future.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

DBT is the sibling of CBT! DBT is very similar to CBT but is tailored to specifically treat borderline personality disorder, focusing on emotional regulation and how to handle distress.

Effectiveness of Therapy for Depression

When someone is diagnosed with depression (called major depressive disorder if you want to use its clinical name), they have two main routes for treatment if they choose to do so. The first one is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, also called SSRIs. SSRIs are an anti-depressant medication whose job is to block certain neurotransmitters (such as serotonin which makes you happy) from entering neurons. The more serotonin hanging out in the brain and not in neurons has a great chance of causing an increase in mood.

The second possibility for treatment for someone diagnosed with depression is psychotherapy! For people with depression, the most common form of therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy, CBT. Therapists work with their patients on targeting the negative thoughts and behaviors and work on changing those detrimental patterns.

Is it Effective?

Studies have shown that CBT is effective in helping treat symptoms of depression. When researchers are examining this, they are comparing people with depression who are receiving therapy to people with depression who are not receiving therapy. In both categories, people do get better, but more so for those with treatment. Studies have found that there is less relapse and fewer symptoms after someone goes through CBT.

Depression, unlike specific phobia, does not have one core feature for the therapist to work on to help the patient. For someone with specific phobia, the therapist knows exactly what to target the therapy towards. Since depression has a less specific problem, studies have found that therapy is less effective than if there is one specific problem being addressed.

Reports have shown that therapy on its own is often not as effective as it is when combined with SSRIs. Typically, for those with depression, it is a combination of both of these methods of treatment that produce the largest change. CBT can do a lot on its own, but for many people with depression, can do even more when paired with medication.

Remember, each person is different and how they respond to treatment is different! A specific combination of therapy and medication might work for your friend, but what works for you could be a completely different treatment.

Effectiveness of Therapy for Anxiety

People who are diagnosed with anxiety can also treat it with medications and/or therapy. SSRIs have been used to treat people with anxiety. Along with SSRIs, benzodiazepines, antihistamines, and beta-blockers are all other possible medications prescribed for someone diagnosed with anxiety.

In terms of psychotherapy, someone with anxiety would likely have cognitive behavioral therapy, just like someone with depression. In this instance, CBT works to help the patient figure out what triggers them and how they can change their behaviors and reactions to quell their anxieties. While people most likely will use CBT, another possible treatment is mindfulness-based therapies. These therapies will focus on the person and their acceptance and treatment of themselves and others.

Is it Effective?

So studies have shown that CBT is effective in helping someone with depression, but is it the same for someone with anxiety?

Studies have also shown that CBT is effective in treating someone with anxiety. It reduces the symptoms of anxiety and helps improve the patient's quality of life. For anxiety disorders, CBT has been found to be most effective in the 12 months following the treatment. After that, in some cases, it will become less effective. As with depression, some people might also need to take or want to take medication in conjunction with having CBT.

Remember, CBT has been shown to be effective, but that doesn't mean it's going to be effective in every single person who does CBT. If someone tries CBT for anxiety disorder and it doesn't work, that just means that there is a different form of therapy or treatment out there that would better suit them.

Image of four people with their hands up in the air. StudySmarterFinding the best treatment for each patient is key! pixabay.com.

Most Effective Therapy

Unfortunately, the jury is still out on which therapy is the most effective. Since there are so many forms of therapy, certain therapies tend to be more effective for certain disorders. Exposure therapy is a great way to treat someone with a phobia but would fail at treating someone with depression. What would you slowly expose them to in order to help their lowered mood? Due to this, it's difficult to pinpoint one specific treatment and call it the best.

One of the most used psychotherapies is cognitive behavioral therapy. It is so frequently used because it combines the best components of cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. CBT has shown to be effective for those who use it as a treatment. However, it is not necessarily the best therapy, just one of the most frequently used therapies. In general, therapy works around 50% of the time.

Example for Effectiveness of Therapy

For some, therapy can provide light at the end of the tunnel. However, for others, therapy only provides temporary relief to the symptoms that return a few months later.

An example that could show how effective and ineffective therapy can be will start at the therapist's office:Joey goes in with symptoms of depression after experiencing multiple losses in his life and wants to get help. He already had depression, but the loss has made it way worse. His therapist helps him for twelve sessions with cognitive behavioral therapy and notes steady improvement. The therapist helps Joey rework how he thinks and acts. When Joey leaves, he feels better and the therapist considers it a success.

However, as Joey continues on with his life, he notices that the depression symptoms are returning. He wasn't as sad as when he first started therapy, but he certainly isn't feeling as good as he did when he left. What happened?

When Joey first started therapy he was in such a low place that simply time passing by helped him feel better. Continual CBT helped as well but for some, therapy does not provide a long-term solution. The therapy did work but just didn't work forever.

Effectiveness of Therapy - Key takeaways

  • Psychotherapy, otherwise known as therapy, is a form of treatment provided by a mental health clinician
  • Be careful when determining the effectiveness of therapy. How is it even measured?
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be effective in people with symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • There is no one perfect therapy. Different forms of therapy work better for different mental health disorders.
  • Medication, or a combination of medication and therapy, is also effective

Frequently Asked Questions about Effectiveness of Therapy

The effectiveness of therapy is around 50%. 

It is difficult to measure the effectiveness of therapy. It mostly relies on information from the patients and therapists. 

Therapy is pretty effective for mental health. People need to find the therapy (and maybe medication as well) that works best for them. 

The most effective treatment for depression is a combination of therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy) and medication (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). 

Factors that influence the effectiveness of therapy are the relationship between the patient and therapist, the personality of the patient, and their age. 

Final Effectiveness of Therapy Quiz

Question

Cognitive therapy focuses on the idea that illogical thought patterns or irrational ideas are at the root of psychological disorders and therefore seeks to transform the way we think. True or false?

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True

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Flooding is an effective treatment for:

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Phobias 

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______ - ______ ______ is an effective therapy for those with ADHD. 

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Cognitive-behavioral therapy

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Thoughts like, "If I do not get this job I will never find a job again", are best helped through which form of therapy? 

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Rational-emotive behavior

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This kind of therapy seeks to help clients learn better coping skills. 

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Behavioral therapy 

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Aversive conditioning works best for:

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Addiction or habit-based issues. 

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______ ________ is a behavioral therapy that pairs a frightening or worrisome stimulus with relaxation to help calm the client back down.

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 Systemic desensitization

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A client who has a fear of clowns first imagines they are watching a movie about clowns, then imagine they are in a room with a clown. They work up to watching a movie about clowns, and eventually being in a room with a clown. This is an example of: 


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 Systemic desensitization

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______ ______ in this setting looks like the therapist is echoing and clarifying what the client is saying back to them to help facilitate insights. 


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Active listening

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Behavioral therapy focuses on a client's relationship with their past experiences and unconscious self. True or false?

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False: Psychodynamic therapy focuses on a client's relationship with their past experiences and unconscious self.

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______ _______  is based on the perspective of self-responsibility.


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Humanistic therapy

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This approach is usually helpful for those who are seeking to find meaning in their life and less effective for those struggling with more intense mental health struggles. 


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 Humanistic therapy

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Therapists are likely to use active listening to encourage clients to share in this setting.


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 Client-centered therapy

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This therapy tends to be more direct and only lasts 12 weeks, as opposed to other forms of psychotherapy that last much longer, sometimes even indefinitely. 


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Interpersonal therapy

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Alcoholics Anonymous is an example of: 

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Group therapy

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What is psychotherapy?

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Psychotherapy is a way for a person to address mental health concerns/issues, and find ways to treat them.

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What does the research say about whether therapy is considered effective or not?


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In general, therapy is considered to be more effective than if someone did no treatment

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What is the difference between psychotherapy and therapy?

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When someone says psychotherapy, they just specifically mean therapy for mental health. Therapy can refer to psychotherapy but can also refer to other forms of therapy

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Does a patient reporting that they feel better mean the treatment is effective?

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Yes...but also maybe no down the road. A patient reporting they feel better means that it did work, but there are no guarantees for what that means down the road. 

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What two common disorders does CBT serve as treatment for?

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Depression and anxiety

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Does therapy work for depression?

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In general, it works better than no treatment, but it is not guaranteed that you will feel better with CBT

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Does therapy work for anxiety?

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In general, yes. It is the most effective for the first year following treatment. 

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What therapy is the most effective?

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None and all! It all depends on the person and what mental health disorder they are diagnosed with. 

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Does a combination of medication and therapy produce better results than just therapy?

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For some, yes it does 

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Does the therapist play a role in how effective therapy can be?

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Yes! If you get along well with your therapist, you can have a better outcome. 

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What is a learning factor in therapy?


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Learning factors could include insight, cognitive learning, feedback, advice, and more.

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Can therapy work initially but not in the long run?

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Yes it can

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What does psychotherapy address?


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Psychotherapy addresses a person’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.

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Who can psychotherapy be effective for?


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Psychotherapy can be effective for people of all ages and in many different individuals or group settings (i.e. children, adults, couples, family, groups, etc.). 

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True or False: Psychotherapy is known to be effective in the majority (meaning over 50%), of patients.


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True

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It may be more difficult for individuals from ____________ cultures to talk about themselves and feel comfortable in a therapy setting

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collectivist

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It is often acceptable to talk about yourself and be open so it's can be easier for clients from ____________ cultures to feel comfortable in therapy.

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individualistic

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You may be part of a ___________ that praises being strong and tough and hiding your emotions.

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culture of honor

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True or False? Immigration status can also play a role in a person's mental health.


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True

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Some cultures simply do not have access to therapy due to _____________. 

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socioeconomic status

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Which of the following is not a way in which a person's immigration status can affect their mental health?

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Fewer instances of isolation

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It is important for a therapist who emphasizes cultural considerations in therapy to detect when a person's issues are due to depression or simply _________.

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adjustment

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66% of Americans consider religion an important part of their lives.

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66%

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Culturally sensitive therapists should be aware of which of the following? ,

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Culturally sensitive therapists should be aware of all of these

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Some cultures, especially collective cultures, frown upon a person talking about themselves.  As a workaround, a therapist may ask the client to ___________ as a way to reveal their underlying issues and feelings.

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tell a story

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Some studies have shown that when a client is matched with a therapist who shares their cultural values and beliefs, they are likely to perceive more ___________ from the therapist as well as a stronger alliance (Kim et al., 2005).


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empathy

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Many psychologists today lean towards the belief that cultural considerations in therapy should be ethically required to _____________.

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do no harm.

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___________ on the other hand, expect people to prioritize social and familial responsibilities above personal desires.


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Collectivist cultures

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____is a mental health service that is provided by a professional where they use forms of communication and interaction to assess, diagnose, and treat behavior patterns of emotional dysfunction?

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Psychotherapy 

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What are the five types of psychotherapy?

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Behavioral therapy

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SSRI's are an antipsychotic medication that works by blocking certain neurotransmitters like serotonin. 

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False

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For people with depression, the most common form of therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy. 

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True

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SSRI's can only be used to treat patients with depression. 

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False

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Aside from Valium, what other medications can be used to treat someone with anxiety? 

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SSRI's 

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Studies show that CBT is ineffective in treating anxiety and does not improve the patient's quality of life. 

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False

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