Does CBT Work?
Over the last few decades, as the field of psychology has moved toward evidence-based practice, there has been more attention in the media about the increasing adoption of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) over other methods of treatment. Since there has been more importance placed on treatments with research support, there has been a flood of new research available to guide clinicians and patients to the most effective treatments for psychological problems. In study after study CBT stands out as the most effective treatment for numerous mental health issues. Furthermore, CBT treatments are usually of shorter duration, and the results are more enduring than those of other treatment methods. As a result, therapists trained in more traditional therapies, such as Freudian/psychodynamic therapists, have railed against this method of therapy because, they claim, it oversimplifies problems and aims toward a “quick fix” due to the shorter duration of treatment in CBT.
Below is a chart comparing the effectiveness of CBT with that of medication and other forms of talk therapy. Unfortunately the research is not entirely definitive, as psychotherapy research is still in its relative infancy, not having the benefit of the bottomless pockets of big pharma. However, the initial research is striking in its implication of CBT being the treatment of choice for many psychological problems.
As you can see, CBT outperforms most other treatments for most anxiety disorders. Some disorders appear to respond better to medication than CBT, however, what the graph does not show is the high relapse rate associated with discontinuing medication (In one study, 95% of patients relapsed upon discontinuation of medication). In contrast, CBT treatments have the lowest relapse rates of any psychological treatment. Click here to learn more about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Evidence-Based Treatment for Anxiety
You can learn more about the research on CBT with other disorders here.
Barlow, D.H., Gorman, J.M., Shear, M.K., & Woods, S.W. (2000). Cognitive-behavioral therapy, imipramine, or their combination for panic disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 283, 19, 2529-2536.
Bradley, R., Greene, J., Russ, E., Dutra, L., & Westen, D. (2005). A multidimensional meta-analysis of psychotherapy for PTSD. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162, 214-227.
Choy, Y., Fyer, A.J., & Lipstiz, J.D. (2007). Treatment of specific phobia in adults. Clinical Psychology Review, 27, 266-286.
Craske, M.G. & Barlow, D.H. (2008). Panic disorder and agoraphobia. In D.H. Barlow (Ed.) Clinical handbook of psychological disorders: A step-by-step treatment manual. (4th ed., pp. 1-64). New York: Guilford Press.
Eng, W., Roth, D.A., & Heimberg, R.G. (2001). Cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety disorder. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 15, 311-319.
Foa, E.B. & Kozak, M.J. (1997). Psychological treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder. In M.R. Mavissakalian & R.G. Prien (Eds.), Long-term treatments of anxiety disorders (pp. 285-309). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
Ladouceur, R., Dugas, M.J., Freeston, M.H., Leger, E., Gagnon, F., & Thibodeau, N. (2000). Efficacy of a cognitive-behavioral treatment for generalized anxiety disorder: Evaluation in a controlled clinical trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 6, 957-964.