Why do Most Psychologists Ignore Science Based Therapy? Evidence Based Psychotherapy and the Failure of Practicioners

A new article in Newsweek magazine titled Ignoring the Evidence documents how most psychologists ignore scientific evidence about treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy which have been proven to be effective.

A two-year study which is going to be published in November in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, found that most psychologists “give more weight to their personal experiences then to science.”

The Newsweek article has a wonderful quote,

“Thanks to clinical trials as rigorous as those for, say, cardiology, we now know that cognitive and cognitive-behavior therapy (teaching patients to think about their thoughts in new, healthier ways and to act on those new ways of thinking) are effective against depression, panic disorder, bulimia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and -posttraumatic-stress disorder, with multiple trials showing that these treatments-the tools of psychology-bring more durable benefits with lower relapse rates than drugs, which non-M.D. psychologists cannot prescribe. Studies have also shown that behavioral couples therapy helps alcoholics stay on the wagon, and that family therapy can help schizophrenics function. “

The article documents how most psychologists fail to provide empirically proven treatment approaches and instead use methods which are often ineffective. The truth is there is very little evidence for most of the types of therapy commonly performed in private practices by psychologists and by Masters level therapists. If you are shopping for the most effective types of therapy you need to find a practitioner who is skilled at cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is one of the few psychotherapy approaches that has been proven to work on a variety of problems.

Another interesting article in Newsweek about evidence-based treatment discussed bulimia. Here’s the summary:

“On bulimia (which affects about 1 percent of women) and binge eating disorders (2 to 5 percent), the verdict is more optimistic: psychological treatment can help a lot, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective talk therapy. That’s based on 48 studies with 3,054 participants. CBT (typically, 15 to 20 sessions over five months) helps patients understand their patterns of binge eating and purging, recognize and anticipate the triggers for it, and summon the strength to resist them; it stops bingeing in just over one third of patients. Interpersonal therapy produced comparable results, but took months longer; other therapies helped no more than 22 percent of patients. If you or someone you love seeks treatment for bulimia, and is offered something other than CBT first, it’s not unreasonable to ask why. Cynthia Bulik, director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, summarized it this way: “Bulimia nervosa is treatable; some treatment is better than no treatment; CBT is associated with the best outcome.”

So the bottom line is this:

1. Most psychologists who don’t practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are just winging it, using treatments that haven’t been shown to work by scientific studies. It’s as if you went to a regular physician and got treatment with leaches!

2. Many psychologists claim to use CBT but haven’t really trained in the use of CBT, or have taken a weekend workshop. Unless they prescribe weekly homework that involves writing down thoughts, and learning skills to analyze and change your thoughts, then they aren’t really doing CBT, and I recommend you find someone else.

3. If you have an anxiety disorder, depression, bulimia, or obsessive compulsive disorder, and haven’t been offered CBT, then you are not receiving state of the art treatment.

Copyright © 2009 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions


Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

4 thoughts on “Why do Most Psychologists Ignore Science Based Therapy? Evidence Based Psychotherapy and the Failure of Practicioners

  1. Andy,
    Probably not surprisingly, I certainly agree with the article and your comments. Psychiatrists are even less likely to be trained in or to correctly practice CBT. The benefits have been obvious for at least 4 decades, and I am disappointed its use still remains so limited.
    Hope you are doing well!
    Best, Alan

  2. One element of this discussion to consider is that psychotherapists are frequently clients themselves, or may have been in the past. Perhaps their own experiences as consumers colors their choices of treatment methodologies more than has been given credit. For example, my own experience as a participant in “energy psychology” methodologies has given me a positive perspective on their uses. Interestingly, while there are studies about energy psychology which suggest positive outcomes — recently the American Psychological Association issued a decision to decline including Energy Psychology as a recognized field for continuing education.

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