Does Psychotherapy Work?

trauma counselling brightonYou’ve signed up for some sessions with a psychotherapist or counsellor. You’re committing your time, energy and hard-earned cash. You’ve even been warned that the road ahead often gets tricky here and there. How can you be sure that this slippery-sounding process is going to work?
The short answer to that question is probably – “you can’t!” There are no guarantees with psychotherapy although from my own experience of being in therapy myself and from working with others as a therapist, that old adage of the ‘the more you put in, the more you get out’ seems to hold up pretty well. I see psychotherapy as a collaboration between two people where one is in need of some help and the other makes themselves available both to think about what the problem might be and to explore different ways of tackling it. This other (the therapist) will also have a sound knowledge of human development, as well as expertise in how to bring about desired change in tolerable ways and at a suitable pace.
There has been much research into whether psychotherapy actually works as a means of helping people find their own way out of e.g. excessive anxiety, depression and relationship difficulties and the most recent concludes that yes it does (Lambert & Ogles, 2004; Wampold, 2007). Also, it has been found that it doesn’t matter much which approach an effective therapist adopts (i.e. whether how they work is rooted in e.g. humanistic, psychodynamic or cognitive behavioural theories) just so long as they have adopted a coherent and recognised framework of some sort. What does seem to matter greatly, however, is whether a particular therapist is any good within their chosen approach. For instance, are they skilful at building relationships with different sorts of people? Are they clear, confident and approachable? Are they warm and accepting? Are they good at focussing on others? (Wampold, 2011).
In a nutshell, research shows that psychotherapy is effective and that no one theoretical approach is significantly more effective than another. It seems to be more likely that it is the human element of psychotherapy that is most important in determining whether the experience of therapy actually makes a difference to the person seeking help. In my view, this means that finding a therapist whom you can trust and with whom you feel safe enough is key to a successful outcome.
Image courtesy of Matt Banks at
Lambert, M & Ogles, B. (2004) The efficacy and effectiveness of psychotherapy. Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behaviour Change (5th ed).

Wampold, B. (2007) Psychotherapy: the humanistic (and effective) treatment. American Psychologist.

Wampold, B. (2011) Qualities and actions of effective therapists. American Psychological Association.
Copyright – Caroline Clarke

Comments are closed