Does Therapy Work?

Yes. Countless studies have shown that psychotherapeutic treatment works. The effects have been measured in terms of improved social functioning, relief from anxiety, reductions in depression, and in just about every other way that improvement and effectiveness can be defined.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General: "Mental disorders are treatable ... the evidence for treatment being effective is overwhelming ... the inescapable point is that studies demonstrate conclusively that treatment is effective."

Consumer Reports magazine concluded similarly. In their extensive study, which relied largely on self-reports from patients, 9 out of 10 Americans reported positive benefits. Consumer Reports gave psychological health care a solid endorsement, and noted that treatment by more highly qualified therapists - such as psychologists - was more likely to produce benefits.

But perhaps the best way to measure the outcome is to look at the cost. Dating back some thirty years to a study of 10,000 Kaiser patients, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that psychotherapy is cost effective. Patients who receive treatment reduce their health care utilization to a degree sufficient to entirely "offset" the cost of therapy. Treated patients tend to be healthier and they use less medical care of all types. They spend less days in the hospital when they need care and they visit their physicians less frequently. The reason is that a substantial number of physician visits are essentially motivated by emotional or stress-related problems.

In a series of studies on health insurance, the Rand Corporation found that in any given year, about 10% of the population will suffer from a diagnosable psychological difficulty. One fifth of those people will seek psychotherapeutic care. One fifth will not receive any treatment. And the remaining 60% will visit a physician. But rather than complaining about stress, anxiety or depression, they will complain about pain, sleep problems, stomach distress, problems eating, fatigue, headaches, and so on. They will complain about problems that are known to be directly related to stress.

Business and industry is well-aware of this phenomenon, and that is why Employee Assistance Plans have become standard features in employee benefit packages. Employers know that stress contributes significantly to accidents at work, reduced productivity, over-use of sick time, absenteeism, and increased medical costs. Employers know that therapeutic services are good for the bottom line. OSHA - the occupational safety and health care administration - has identified stress as one of the top ten workplace safety threats, and one of the most costly if left untreated.

Psychologists have demonstrated that providing access to mental health treatment is one of the very best ways that America can reduce health care costs. This has been known for thirty years in the research literature. Unfortunately, it too often remains unknown to the managed care industry.

Yes. Therapy works.

Copyright, Paul G. Mattiuzzi,Ph.D.