The Great Psychotherapy Debate: Since in April, 2015 I review parts of The Great Psychotherapy Debate (Wampold & Imel, 2015) in the PPRNet Blog. This is the second edition of a landmark, and sometimes controversial, book that surveys the evidence for what makes psychotherapy work. You can view parts of the book in Google Books.
Wampold, B.E. & Imel, Z.E. (2015). The great psychotherapy debate: The evidence for what makes psychotherapy work (2nd edition). New York: Routledge.
The narrative about the relative efficacy of psychotherapies for depression has shifted over the past several decades. In the early days (1970s – 1980s) there appeared to be accumulating evidence that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) was more efficacious than “other psychotherapies”. However, today one look at the Society for Clinical Psychology list of empirically supported treatments for depression indicates that a variety of interventions are efficacious. In this part of their book, Wampold & Imel examine this change. Early in their book, they defined psychotherapy as: (1) based psychological principles, (2) involving a trained therapist and a client who is seeking help for a mental disorder, (3) intended to be helpful for the client’s complaints, and (4) adapted to the client’s problem. Wampold and Imel argue that many of the treatments compared to CBT in the early days did not meet this definition of psychotherapy. That is, many of the early comparison treatments were not bona-fide therapies; so the comparisons were not expected to be therapeutic. Common comparisons to CBT were “usual care”, “supportive therapy”, and “self directed care” that for the most part did not meet the definition of psychotherapy. Further, the providers of usual care or supportive therapy had no allegiance to the treatment or expectation that the intervention was useful, which eroded the credibility of these interventions for the client. When bona-fide psychotherapies are compared to each other, the effect sizes tend to be small or negligible. For example, Braun and colleagues (2013) conducted a large meta analysis of 53 studies with nearly 4,000 patients. When they looked specifically at studies of bona fide therapies, and pairs of treatments that were compared in at least 5 studies, there were no differences between the treatments. Similar findings are reported in large a network meta analysis by Barth and colleagues (2013) (198 studies with 15,118 patients) that was summarized in the July 2014 PPRNet Blog.
Psychotherapies that are based on sound psychological principles, delivered by trained therapists for clients who seek help and that are intended to be helpful for the client’s complaint are likely to be equally effective for depressive disorders. A variety of psychotherapies including, CBT, emotionally-focused therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, and short-term psychodynamic therapy have demonstrated empirical support for their efficacy in treating depression. Client expectations of receiving benefit and therapist allegiance to treatment enhance the effectiveness of treatments.