Research has shown that many people with psychological disorders benefit from
treatment. Effectiveness depends on the specific disorder being treated and the
skill of the therapist.
Ways of Assessing Effectiveness
The effectiveness of a particular therapeutic approach can be assessed in
three ways: client testimonials, providers’ perceptions, and empirical research.
Clients who get treatment for psychological problems often testify to
their effectiveness. However, such testimonials can be unreliable for
Regression toward the mean: People often go into
treatment because they are in extreme distress. When their distress
becomes less extreme, they may attribute this to the treatment’s
effectiveness. But even without treatment, extreme distress tends to
decrease. The tendency for extreme states to move toward the average
when assessed a second time is called regression toward the
The placebo effect: People often feel better after
being in treatment because of their expectations that they will improve.
(See Chapter 1 for more information on placebo effects.)
The justification of effort effect: People may
believe that treatment was effective because they spent time, effort,
and money on it. If people work hard to reach a goal, they are likely to
value the goal more. This phenomenon is called justification of
Treatment providers can say whether a treatment is effective, but this
can be unreliable for several reasons:
- Regression toward the mean affects providers’ perceptions of
success. They may believe that a client who entered treatment in crisis
became less extremely distressed because of the treatment. However, such
an improvement may have occurred without any intervention.
- Providers’ perceptions may be biased because clients often
emphasize improvements in order to justify discontinuing treatment.
- Providers may also have biased perceptions because they continue
to hear from past clients only when those clients were satisfied with
treatment. They don’t often hear from clients who found treatment
Another way to assess effectiveness is through careful
empirical research. Research has shown that some treatments are more
effective for a particular problem than a placebo or no treatment. These
treatments are known as empirically validated treatments.
Researchers have to conduct two or more studies in order to conclude
that a specific treatment is effective for a particular
Research shows that psychotherapy works for many psychological
problems. Although people who do not receive therapy also sometimes improve
with time, people who do receive therapy are more likely to improve.
Research also shows that all approaches to therapy are about equally
effective, though certain kind of therapies do seem somewhat more effective
for specific problems.