Does Psychotherapy Really Work? [Excerpts]
U. S. News and World Report recently (May 23) ran a lead article titled, "Does Therapy Work? The growing controversy." Please note that the subtitle is "The growing controversy." The issue regarding the efficacy of psychotherapy is far from settled.
However, people are quick to point to the following quote from Michael Lambert and Allen Bergin in the article: "There is now little doubt that psychological treatments are, overall and in general, beneficial, although it remains equally true that not everyone benefits to a satisfactory degree."
True, the above quote was in the article. But, so was the following statement: “Yet with only few exceptions, scientists have failed, in study after study, to demonstrate the superiority of any major therapeutic school, a phenomenon psychologist Lester Luborsky and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania compare with the dodo bird’s pronouncement in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: "Everyone has won and all must have prizes."
We have quoted the "dodo bird’s pronouncement" for years. What the research demonstrates simply is that all psychotherapy works and it all seems to work equally well. Is this a testimony for the efficacy of psychotherapy? Or, is it a testimony for something far simpler than anything to do with years of learning techniques and theories? The literature thus far supports the latter.
What Is Really at Work?
Numerous outcome studies have found little influence of results due to technique factors. There is an uncomfortable realization among researchers that if all psychotherapies work about the same, then the psychological hypotheses themselves are called into question.
Dr. Joseph Wortis, State University of New York, clarifies the confusion caused by the "dodo bird’s pronouncement" by saying: “The proposition of whether psychotherapy can be beneficial can be reduced to its simplest terms of whether talk is very helpful.”
He goes on to say, “And that doesn’t need to be researched. It is self evident that talk can be helpful. While what he says about talk being the commonality of therapies leading to possible benefit, we must quickly add that talk may not be helpful for Christians in therapy. It depends on what is being said. If the talk leads people into themselves and away from the Lord, into believing the wisdom of men instead of the Word of God, and into believing a lie instead of the Truth, we say talk can be dangerous for Christians even though it may relieve personal pain.