I first met Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), about 35 years ago. Soon after I became an Associate Fellow and a Supervisor with the Albert Ellis Institute in New York City, and was a died-in-the-wool devotee for decades.
Al was open to all of us adding or subtracting a variety of techniques, whether meditation, homeopathy, yoga philosophy, or anything else, as he had already incorporated disparate ideas from areas as diverse as Buddhism and behaviorism. He wanted each therapist to put his or her own stamp on their ways of working, although I believe he assumed we would all keep the REBT skeleton beneath whatever robes we draped it in.
Rigid, dogmatic thinking was not the coin of his realm. In fact, he loved to engage in lively discussions of all therapeutic techniques and was happy to incorporate anything he believed would help shift a client to becoming more unconditionally self-accepting.
Of course, like any parent, he was proud and delighted when his baby, REBT (the precursor of cognitive behavioral therapy [CBT]), would be “proven” to be effective in alleviating depression, anxiety, anger issues, or anything else, as it was with 40-plus years’ worth of studies.
This plethora of evidence-based practice studies that have lauded the effects of REBT and CBT is what led to the Swedish government’s decision to invest heavily in training clinicians to provide CBT to people with depression and anxiety and spend no money on training or treatment in other modalities. Naturally, the Swedish government was a bit shocked when a recent study showed that training therapists in and treating clients with CBT had little or no effect.
In response to these findings, Scott D. Miller, Ph.D. wrote: “The widespread adoption of the method has had no effect whatsoever on the outcome of people disabled by depression and anxiety. Moreover, a significant number of people who were not disabled at the time they were treated with CBT became disabled.”
Apparently, this has not deterred the American Psychological Association from resurrecting its plan to draft and promulgate a series of guidelines pushing specific treatments for different mental health issues.
Dr. Miller and his colleagues at the International Center for Clinical Excellence have analyzed many studies showing little difference between treatment approaches in terms of outcome. They argue that all approaches work almost as well, and efforts to target specific treatments for each psychiatric diagnosis are not an effective use of time and money.
Dr. Miller recently talked about what works in behavioral health and recommended shifting the focus to designing client-tailored services rather than spending so much energy on examining specific treatment models and techniques. Meanwhile, Sweden has decided to end the exclusive use of CBT for the treatment of anxiety and depression, realizing that people need to have therapy choices.
As a holistic psychotherapist for almost 40 years, I think it is obvious when treatment is working: people self-report feeling better. They engage in life more fully, sleep better, take better care of themselves, and have more satisfying relationships and more meaningful life experiences.
As much as it can be wonderfully useful to study psychological modalities, theories, and philosophies, at the end of the day it all boils down to whether the person has been helped or not. Using evidence-based practice studies as a Procrustean bed will only cause pain and prolong suffering, just as the original one tried to stretch or shrink people to fit its specifications.
Miller, S. D. (May 13, 2012). Revolution in Swedish mental health practice: The cognitive behavioral therapy monopoly gives way. Retrieved from http://www.scottdmiller.com/?q=node%2F160&goback=%2Egde_53475_member_125725759
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