Big question. And as far as I’m concerned there is a simple answer. Yes. Therapy can work very effectively. I can hear you now though, quite rightly, shouting at your monitor, “but you’re a therapist so you’re bound to say that” so let’s see if I can convince you further.
As a therapist my starting place has to be my own experience. When I am working as a therapistI witness clients making positive changes in their lives consistently and I have also experienced these changes in my own life. Sometimes it can take weeks for that “aha” moment to arrive, but when it does that moment can, literally, be life changing. It was these moments, these insights into my own ways of thinking that stimulated my interest in psychotherapy. I was able to use this knowledge to live my life differently, to develop better relationships and to change my behaviour for the better. Now, many years later, I have the privilege of being let into other people’s lives to support and guide them whilst they examine their lives and make positive change.
My next step is a quick trawl around the internet. The website talkingcure gives many examples of where research supports the idea that therapy is effective. Most of this research has been carried out by health services of countries around the world to see if they are getting their monies worth out of their counselling services (money is a great motivator for research!).
The following studies are just a couple of the examples included on the site:
- Chiles et al (1999) found that psychological services reduced medical expenses in patients undergoing surgery and those with a history of over utilization. On average, there was a 20% saving, even when the cost of providing the services was subtracted from the savings.
- Research* showed that therapy carried out with men who batter their wives proved highly successful with 60% of men not re-offending within the thirty month follow up period and the wives of these men feeling “very safe” in 83% of cases.
Smith and Glass (1977) carried out research into the effectiveness of different types of therapy. Results of nearly 400 controlled evaluations of psychotherapy and counselling were coded and integrated statistically. The findings provided convincing evidence of the efficacy of psychotherapy. On the average they concluded that the typical therapy client was better off than 75% of untreated individuals. More interestingly, they found that the type of therapy received by the client had little bearing on the rate of success. This is further evidence for the idea that it is what happens between the client and the therapist, the relationship that forms, that is the deciding factor for a successful outcome.
Martindale (1978) questions the validity of research into the effectiveness of psychotherapy and states that answering a question such as “does therapy work” is impossible as there are too many variables. All clients are different, all therapists are different. He argues that a therapist may be effective for one client but ineffective for another. It’s easy to see the logic of this argument and how we know which therapist is best for us will be the subject of another entry at a later date.
So where have we got to so far? Both research and personal experience support the idea that therapy can be useful. I appreciate that I have only given evidence of three research studies but I invite you to follow my links and check out my references for dozens of studies that conclude therapy is effective.
This does not mean however that we need to run to our nearest therapist and sign up for a course of treatment! Going into therapy is a very personal and often very frightening step for many to take. You take that step when you are ready to engage with the process and feel in your heart that it’s right for you. I remember my first session even to this day. I arrived fifteen minutes early and “cased” the joint to see if there was anyone around who would spot me going in. I seriously considered turning around and going back home! Eventually I plucked up the courage, knocked on the door and therein began this journey.
I think that initial step of seeking emotional support from others may be more difficult for men than for women. This is backed up by the suicide figures for each sex where in 2008 where per 100000 of the UK population, 17.7 men committed suicide compared to just 5.4 women (age standardised rates taken from www.statistics.gov.uk). Once more, I’m sure this will feature as a subject in my future writings.
So, to conclude, I would say that yes, therapy does work. It can be an effective means to resolve problems as wide ranging as anxiety, stress, sexual identity, depression, lack of purpose, jealousy and a multitude of other issues that we can have whirling through our heads at particular times in our lives. So when you’re ready, if you want to, pick up a phone and make that first appointment.
Chiles, J. et al. (1999). The impact of psychological interventions on medical cost offset: a meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology, 6(2), 204-220.
Martindale, C. “The Therapist-as-Fixed-Effect Fallacy in Psychotherapy Research”. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 1978, Vol. 46, No. 6, 1526-1530
*Peterson, K. (July 27, 1988). Programs help men unlearn violence. USA Today, p. 1.
Smith, M. and Glass, G. “Meta-Analysis of Psychotherapy Outcome Studies”. American Psychologist. September 1977. p752-760.