January 25, 2010
Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Brings Lasting Benefits through Self-Knowledge
Patients Continue to Improve After Treatment Ends, New Study Finds
The eight meta-analyses, representing the best available scientific evidence on psychodynamic therapy, all showed substantial treatment benefits, according to Shedler. Effect sizes were impressive even for personality disorders—deeply ingrained maladaptive traits that are notoriously difficult to treat, he said. “The consistent trend toward larger effect sizes at follow-up suggests that psychodynamic psychotherapy sets in motion psychological processes that lead to ongoing change, even after therapy has ended,” Shedler said. “In contrast, the benefits of other ‘empirically supported’ therapies tend to diminish over time for the most common conditions, like depression and generalized anxiety.” “Pharmaceutical companies and health insurance companies have a financial incentive to promote the view that mental suffering can be reduced to lists of symptoms, and that treatment means managing those symptoms and little else. For some specific psychiatric conditions, this makes sense,” he added. “But more often, emotional suffering is woven into the fabric of the person’s life and rooted in relationship patterns, inner contradictions and emotional blind spots. This is what psychodynamic therapy is designed to address.” Shedler acknowledged that there are many more studies of other psychological treatments (other than psychodynamic), and that the developers of other therapies took the lead in recognizing the importance of rigorous scientific evaluation. “Accountability is crucial,” said Shedler. “But now that research is putting psychodynamic therapy to the test, we are not seeing evidence that the newer therapies are more effective.” Shedler also noted that existing research does not adequately capture the benefits that psychodynamic therapy aims to achieve. “It is easy to measure change in acute symptoms, harder to measure deeper personality changes. But it can be done.” The research also suggests that when other psychotherapies are effective, it may be because they include unacknowledged psychodynamic elements. “When you look past therapy ‘brand names’ and look at what the effective therapists are actually doing, it turns out they are doing what psychodynamic therapists have always done—facilitating self-exploration, examining emotional blind spots, understanding relationship patterns.” Four studies of therapy for depression used actual recordings of therapy sessions to study what therapists said and did that was effective or ineffective. The more the therapists acted like psychodynamic therapists, the better the outcome, Shedler said. “This was true regardless of the kind of therapy the therapists believed they were providing.” Article: “The Efficacy of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy,” Jonathan K. Shedler, PhD, University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine; American Psychologist, Vol. 65. No.2. The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.