Does Psychotherapy Have an Image Problem?

There was an interesting OpEd that ran in the New York Times recently about Psychotherapy’s Image Problem.  Though there was a bit of controversy in the piece, the author was essentially saying that in comparison to the deep pockets and amazing marketing of Big Pharma, little psychotherapy hasn’t been able to keep up in the public eye.  That might not be all that big of a deal until you delve deeper into the piece and the literature which repeatedly notes that psychotherapy is most often at least as effective as medication in the short run, and is more effective than meds in the long run for the treatment of depression, anxiety and related problems.

There were some interesting comments from the NYT readers (and from my colleagues on professional listservs) about the author’s focus on

There was an interesting OpEd that ran in the New York Times recently about Psychotherapy’s Image Problem.  Though there was a bit of controversy in the piece, the author was essentially saying that in comparison to the deep pockets and amazing marketing of Big Pharma, little psychotherapy hasn’t been able to keep up in the public eye.  That might not be all that big of a deal until you delve deeper into the piece and the literature which repeatedly notes that psychotherapy is most often at least as effective as medication in the short run, and is more effective than meds in the long run for the treatment of depression, anxiety and related problems.

There were some interesting comments from the NYT readers (and from my colleagues on professional listservs) about the author’s focus on empiracally supported therapies in contrast to more well established by also more difficult to explain/understand therapies such as psychodynamic psychotherapy.  The fact is that the author is right that we psychologists don’t do a good job “selling” or even disseminating valid information about the benefits of our services.  And our professional organizations (such as the American Psychological Association), with the best of intents, just can’t compete with the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to push their “product.”

It’s important for all “consumers” of mental health services (therapy, medication, etc) to be congnizant of the fact that though medications can be invaluable in many situations, they are not the panacea for psychological pain, they can have significant negative effects and they don’t address underlying psychological or social causes or precipitants to psychiatric illness.  At minimum, with most individuals, the prescription of psychiatric medication should be done in conjunction with psychotherapy.

supported therapies in contrast to more well established by also more difficult to explain/understand therapies such as psychodynamic psychotherapy.  The fact is that the author is right that we psychologists don’t do a good job “selling” or even disseminating valid information about the benefits of our services.  And our professional organizations (such as the American Psychological Association), with the best of intents, just can’t compete with the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to push their “product.”

It’s important for all “consumers” of mental health services (therapy, medication, etc) to be congnizent of the fact that though medications can be invaluable in many situations, they are not the panacea for psychological pain, they can have significant negative effects and they don’t address underlying psychological or social causes or precipitants to psychiatric illness.  At minimum, with most individuals, the prescription of psychiatric medication should be done in conjunction with psychotherapy.

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