Measuring the unmeasurable: NYT says psychotherapy doesn’t work

I just read a great blog post from Psych Roundup on a NY Times article published yesterday that claims in its headline ‘Psychotherapy doesn’t work’. That seemed like a pretty bold statement to me so I was curious to read on.

I suppose if you look at ‘tangible’ results, I could say that my psychotherapy hasn’t worked. I’ve been going to therapy religiously, as well as taking the prescribed pharmaceuticals for nearly a year and I still tried to commit suicide about 4 weeks ago. So in terms of hard data, I’m pretty sure the researchers would say my treatment hasn’t been effective.

But as the article says, depression is a moving target. It waxes and wanes and is thus pretty difficult to measure in any concrete way. My psychiatrist often reminds me that it is an illness that can take years to recover from. I remember being intrigued when I heard a psychologist framing depression in the same way as cancer. He said you don’t recover from it, you go into remission. For many of us it will always be lurking in the shadows waiting to re-emerge when times get hard. And that means it is crucial that we find ways to strengthen ourselves in the good times and develop coping strategies for dealing with life’s challenges.

Psychotherapy isn’t a quick fix. I for one rarely leave a session feeling like my mood has improved. For a lot of people, it can take months to build a relationship in which they feel safe enough to explore what is painful and important to them. And studies on the results can look pretty disheartening because they are often short-term and attempt to evaluate something that is continually shifting. They measure improvements in mood, or ability to function, but they don’t measure how a person’s relationships have changed, what they have learned about themselves or whether they have come to understand how their past impacts the present.

Most importantly for me, I feel like while I am not in a good place now, I have begun, through psychotherapy to do the work necessary to build my recovery and hopefully protect myself against relapsing in the future.


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