It is often assumed that there is little quantitative evidence for the effectiveness of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. On the one hand, NHS provision is geared around alternatives, particularly towards cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and medication. It is argued that the evidence base for these is strong, and their relative availability – compared with psychodynamic (therapies based on psychoanalytic principles) therapy – within the NHS lends support to this idea. Indeed when ‘talking therapies’ are referred to it is often CBT that is meant – as is the case in this report. Even some psychodynamic psychotherapists themselves assume that, while they know from the evidence of their own work that psychoanalytic therapy can be very effective, it is not ‘measurable’ in the way something such as CBT is.
However, an excellent article by Jonathan Shedler analyses multiple research studies to show that plentiful evidence does exist for the effectiveness of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. He argues that much of this research is not publicised (and questions why this is so) and the reports of the research are often so technically written that it is difficult even for other researchers to interpret the data – but it does exist.
Shedler argues that this data firmly refutes the ‘belief in some quarters that psychodynamic concepts and treatments lack empirical support or that scientific evidence shows that other forms of treatment are more effective’. This is a belief, he argues, which ‘appears to have taken on a life of its own’ – and yet it is not evidence-based. Far from it, he says, as the effects of psychodynamic therapies are often longer lasting and deeper. He also argues that evidence indicates that, often unacknowledged, psychodynamic elements in CBT that contribute to its effectiveness.
Jonathan Shedler’s article, ‘The Efficacy of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy’, can be found in American Psychology, 2010, vol 65. A link to a summary of it is here.