Assessing Psychotherapy’s Effectiveness
Some people wonder why they can’t just talk about their problems with family members or friends. Psychotherapists offer more than someplace to vent. Psychotherapists have years of training and experience that help people improve their lives. And there is significant evidence showing that psychotherapy is a very effective treatment.
HOW EFFECTIVE IS PSYCHOTHERAPY?
Hundreds of studies have found that psychotherapy helps people make positive changes in their lives.
Reviews of these studies show that about 75 percent of people who enter psychotherapy show some benefit. Other reviews have found that the average person who engages in psychotherapy is better off by the end of treatment than 80 percent of those who don’t receive treatment at all.
HOW DOES PSYCHOTHERAPY WORK?
Successful treatment is the result of three factors working together:
- Evidence-based treatment that is appropriate for your problem.
- The psychotherapist’s clinical expertise.
- Your characteristics, values, culture and preferences.
When people begin psychotherapy, they often feel that their distress is never going to end. Psychotherapy helps people understand that they can do something to improve their situation. That leads to changes that enhance healthy behaviour, whether it’s improving relationships, expressing emotions better, doing better at work or school, or thinking more positively.
While some issues and problems respond best to a particular style of therapy, what remains critical and important is the therapeutic alliance and relationship with your psychotherapist.
WHAT IF PSYCHOTHERAPY DOESN’T SEEM TO BE WORKING?
When you began psychotherapy, your psychotherapist probably worked with you to develop goals and a rough timeline for treatment. As you go along, you should be asking yourself whether the psychotherapist seems to understand you, whether the treatment plan makes sense and whether you feel like you’re making progress.
Some people begin to feel better in about six to 12 sessions. If you don’t start seeing signs of progress, discuss it with your psychotherapist. Your psychotherapist may initiate a conversation about what to do. If he or she doesn’t, bring it up yourself. You could ask your psychotherapist about additional or alternative treatment methods, for example. Sometimes speaking up to your psychotherapist can be very empowering, especially since your psychotherapist will be understanding and nonjudgmental instead of offended.
Keep in mind that as psychotherapy progresses, you may feel overwhelmed. You may feel more angry, sad or confused than you did at the beginning of the process. That doesn’t mean psychotherapy isn’t working. Instead, it can be a sign that your psychotherapist is pushing you to confront difficult truths or do the hard work of making changes. In such cases, these strong emotions are a sign of growth rather than evidence of a standstill. Remember, sometimes things may feel worse before they get better.
In some cases, of course, the relationship between a patient and the psychotherapist isn’t as good as it should be. The psychotherapist should be willing to address those kinds of issues, too. If you’re worried about your psychotherapist’s diagnosis of your problems, it might be helpful to get a second opinion from another psychotherapist, as long as you let your original psychotherapist know you’re doing so.
If the situation doesn’t improve, you and your psychotherapist may decide it’s time for you to start working with a new psychotherapist. Don’t take it personally. It’s not you; it’s just a bad fit. And because the therapeutic alliance is so crucial to the effectiveness of psychotherapy, you need a good fit.
If you do decide to move on, don’t just stop coming to your first psychotherapist. Instead, tell him or her that you’re leaving and why you’re doing so. A good psychotherapist will refer you to someone else, wish you luck and urge you not to give up on psychotherapy just because your first attempt didn’t go well. Tell your next psychotherapist what didn’t work to help ensure a better fit.