The effectiveness of psychotherapy

The effectiveness of psychotherapy

As with hypnotherapy; numerous studies and meta-analyses have established psychotherapy to be one of the most effective means of helping people overcome mental distress and get more out of life. However, since the number of studies that have been undertaken to date is far too great to cover; the following results are simply for illustrative purposes.

The effectiveness of psychotherapy with common forms of mental distress

A meta-analysis of 81 studies of the effectiveness of psychotherapy in the treatment of common forms of mental distress, such as phobias and emotional-somatic complaints, found that the condition of a typical patient following therapy was better than 77% of the individuals who did not receive therapy (Andrews and Harvey, 1981).

The effectiveness of psychotherapy with panic attacks

A systematic review of randomised controlled trials designed to evaluate the effectiveness of psychotherapy, either on its own or when combined with anti-depressant medication, in the treatment of panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia), concluded that (Furukawa et al, 2007):

  • Combined therapy is more effective than psychotherapy alone or antidepressant pharmacotherapy alone for short-term treatment
  • When long-term therapy is employed, psychotherapy alone is as effective as combined therapy, whilst combined therapy is more effective than antidepressant medication alone
  • Antidepressant medication alone is not to be recommended as first line treatment, where appropriate resources are available.

Effectiveness of psychotherapy with anxiety and depression

A meta-analysis of 35 controlled trials examining the effectiveness of cognitive behavioural psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy (medication) in the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder found (Gould et al, 1997):

  • Cognitive behavioural psychotherapy is as effective as pharmacotherapy for alleviating generalised anxiety disorder
  • Psychotherapeutic intervention provided significantly greater effects on depression severity than pharmacotherapy, and only the treatment gains achieved with psychotherapy were maintained over time

A review of 23 studies found that short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy (less than 40 hours) provides improvement in common mental disorders (general anxiety, depression, and body symptoms) that was generally maintained over the medium and long term (Abass et al, 2006).

Psychotherapy and weight loss

A review of 36 weight loss studies, covering 3495 people, concluded that incorporating psychotherapy (especially behavioural or cognitive-behavioural approaches) into a weight loss programme (covering diet and exercise) led to greater weight loss, and significantly improved successful outcomes (Shaw et al, 2005).

Complex mental disorders

Psychodynamic psychotherapy has been found to be an effective treatment for complex mental disorders when used on a long-term basis (Leichsenring and Rabung, 2008)


1. Andrews G. and Harvey R., Does psychotherapy benefit neurotic patients?  A re-analysis of the Smith, Glass and Miller data.  Archives of General Psychiatry, 1981.  38 (11): p.1203-1208.

2. Furukawa T.A., Watanabe N., Churchill R., Combined psychotherapy plus antidepressants for panic disorder with or without agoraphobia.  Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2007 (1).

3. Gould R.A., et al, Cognitive-behavioural and pharmacological treatment of generalised anxiety disorder: A preliminary meta-analysis.  Behaviour Therapy, 1997.  28 (2): p.285-305.

4. Abass A.A. et al, Short-term psychodynamic psychotherapies for common mental disorders.  Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2006 (4).

5. Shaw K.A. et al, Psychological interventions for overweight or obesity .Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2005 (2).

6. Leichsenring, F. and Rabung, S., Effectiveness of long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy: a meta-analysis. JAMA, 2008.  300 (13).