How Effective is Psychological Therapy?

Many people have found relief from depression and other emotional difficulties through psychological therapy. This brief question-and-answer guide provides some basic information to help people take advantage of psychological therapy.

What does research show about the effectiveness of psychological therapy?

There is strong evidence that the right psychological therapy with a suitably qualified clinical psychologist can increase an individual’s wellbeing and performance. Research convincingly shows that certain kinds of therapy effectively treat a range of emotional problems such as depression, anxiety and related feelings such as pain, fatigue and nausea. Psychological therapy can also provide benefits to physical health. Certain therapies have been found to increase survival time for heart surgery and cancer patients, and can have a positive effect on the body’s immune system. Research increasingly supports the idea that emotional and physical health are very closely linked and that therapy can improve a person’s overall health status. Psychological therapy with children is similar in effectiveness to psychological therapy with adults.

Your clinical psychologist will be able to tell you about the evidence for the treatments that they recommend. You can find out a great deal of information about various conditions and the proven treatments by visiting the “Good Resources on Mental Health Conditions and Treatments” web sites on our links page

How to gain the most from Psychological Therapy

All psychological therapy is a two-way process that works especially well when clients and their therapists communicate openly. Research has shown that the outcome of psychological therapy is improved when the therapist and client agree early about what the major problems are and how psychological therapy can help. You and your therapist both have responsibilities in establishing and maintaining a good working relationship. Be clear with your therapist about your expectations and share any concerns that may arise. Psychological therapy works best when you attend all scheduled sessions and give some forethought to what you want to discuss during each one.

How do I know if therapy is working well?

As you begin psychological therapy, you should establish clear goals with your clinical psychologist. Perhaps you want to overcome feelings of hopelessness associated with depression. Or maybe you would like to control a fear that disrupts your daily life. Keep in mind that certain tasks require more time to accomplish than others. You may need to adjust your goals depending on how long you plan to be in psychological therapy.

After a few sessions, it’s a good sign if you feel the experience truly is a joint effort and that you and the therapist have a good rapport. On the other hand, you should be tell your therapist if you find yourself feeling ‘stuck’ or lacking direction once you’ve been in psychological therapy awhile.

People often feel a wide range of emotions during psychological therapy. Some qualms about psychological therapy that people may have result from the difficulty of discussing painful and troubling experiences. When this happens, it can actually be a positive sign indicating that you are starting to explore your thoughts and behaviours.

If you find yourself thinking about discontinuing psychological therapy, talk with your therapist. It might be helpful to consult another professional, although it will help if you let your therapist know you are seeking a second opinion.

Although there are other considerations affecting the duration of psychological therapy, success in reaching your primary goals should be a major factor in deciding when your psychological therapy should end.

Psychological therapy isn’t easy. But people who are willing to work in close partnership with their therapist often find relief from their emotional distress and begin to lead more productive and fulfilling lives.

For more information download the pamphlet "How Effective is Psychological Therapy"