Millions of Americans go to talk therapy. But does it work? It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer.
Talking therapy has great benefits for some people, but not for everyone, so it may not work for you, writes my colleague Susan Dominos in the New York Times Magazine’s Therapy issue, published this week.
Researchers were able to come to this conclusion only relatively recently. Since the days of Sigmund Freud, the field of psychotherapy has been resistant, even hostile, to the evaluation of its methods through empirical studies. “Upon graduating from my psychoanalytic training, one of my supervising analysts said to me, ‘Your analysis will cure you of the need to do research,’” Andrew Gerber, president of the Connecticut Psychotherapy Center, told The Times.
This resistance has diminished in the past few decades, which has led to hundreds of clinical trials. Results have been mixed. Some studies have found that treatment has a higher chance of helping than not. Other research has shown more limited results, suggesting that the treatment helps some patients but not many or even most of them.
Why? It probably comes down to individual preferences. The therapist or type of therapy that one person works with may not align with another person’s personality or problems. So a study looking at whether one type of treatment works is likely to yield limited results, regardless of how effective that treatment may be for specific individuals.
And for some, talk therapy may never be the right match for other types of help, such as medication.
Some experts have come to a disappointing conclusion. “We’ve probably reached the limit of what you can do by talking to someone,” said David Tolin, director of another treatment center in Connecticut. “Maybe it will just get better.” Others are now trying to harness the evidence to improve talking therapy and find ways to connect patients with the type of therapy that works best for them.
Speaking to researcher Timothy Anderson, Susan expressed her frustration with the ambiguous evidence:
Perhaps I—as a longtime consumer of therapy in search of reassurance—has reached my limit with controversies between various clinicians and researchers, and warnings and debates about methodology. “The research seems too loose,” I said, not bothering to hide my frustration. “It’s not very satisfying.” I can practically hear a smile on the other end of the phone. Well, thank you, said Anderson. “That’s what makes this research so interesting. That there are no simple answers, right?”
Read Suzanne’s cover story here for more details on the evidence for different types of therapy and how therapists are trying to improve.
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what are you watching
Greece holds elections today.
Two Republicans are expected to enter the presidential race this week: DeSantis and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
A man who was filmed placing his shoes on a desk in Nancy Pelosi’s office during the Jan. 6 attacks will be sentenced Wednesday.
A House subcommittee will hold a hearing on bank and regulatory failures on Wednesday.
Biden will deliver the commencement address at his alma mater, the University of Delaware, on Saturday.