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What Type of Therapy Works Best?

July 9, 2018

By Michael Zone LCSW-P, ACSW, MS, MEd, JD

For well over 25 years, research has been done on the effectiveness of different types of therapy and counseling. This includes both theories of counseling (i.e. cognitive-behavioral, psycho-dynamic) and therapeutic modalities (i.e. individual, family).

Research has consistently shown the effectiveness, broadly speaking, of behavioral, cognitive-behavior and psycho-dynamic theories of counseling, especially in the individual and family therapy contexts.

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Other schools of therapy such as humanistic and integrative have shown effectiveness in some research studies as have group and couples therapy. However, certain theories and modalities have shown to be the most effective across a broad range of issues.

From as far back as 1993, Martin Seligman, in “What you can change . . . and what you can’t” showed that cognitive-behavioral therapy was from extremely to moderately successful in treating panic attacks, depression and PTSD. Behavioral therapies were successful with anxiety, phobias and OCD.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy was successful in treating depression and anger could be helped with assertiveness and social skills training.  Nathan and Gorman, in “A Guide to Treatments that Work” (1998) along with Linda Seligman, “Selecting Effective Treatments” (1998) reviewed literature that demonstrated the effective of Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), education, relapse prevention and support groups on depression; Behavior therapy, CBT and IPT as well as family therapy with anxiety; Behavior therapy, education, stress management and group therapy with behavior and impulse disorders; Psycho-dynamic therapies seem to work best with personality disorders and dissociative disorders.

As recently as 2017, both NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and Psychology Today published articles demonstrating the effectiveness of CBT and Behavior therapy on depression. Similar articles since 2013 have shown the efficacy of CBT on anxiety.

Not all therapies, theories and modalities work the same for all issues, problems and diagnoses. Nor do they work equally well for all people in all situations. However, identifying which problems have shown to be the most treatable with which therapy can help in providing evidence-based, effective treatment that has the greatest chance of success.

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