NEIL CHAMBERS Psychotherapist
Relevant Research

I was trained as a research psychologist, which means that I learned the importance of solid, well designed research to provide evidence for or against a theory, practice or technique. As my training was in psychological assessment, however, I also came to realize the limitations of our ability to measure the most complex aspects of the human mind and personality. I remember one valued professor cautioning us against ‘methodolatry’, that is, the tendency to only research what you can measure.

For many years psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy fell between the cracks of scientific investigation precisely because we did not have sufficiently advanced methods to measure the complexities of the mind that these therapies address. Fortunately that is changing. Recent real time brain-imaging techniques are beginning to provide clear evidence for some key psychoanalytic claims and indeed a whole new and exciting field has emerged in neuro-psychoanalysis. Advances in qualitative measurement are beginning to lend much more credence to the value of case studies or research projects that involve smaller numbers of individuals, the sort of project that is more relevant for psychoanalytic research.

Collection of Relevant Research Books

Perhaps the most exciting studies and the most relevant to you, the potential client, are those that have examined how effective psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy are as therapies. In a well designed meta-analysis, which is a statistical overview of many studies, Leichsenring, Rabung and Leibing (2008) found that short-term psychoanalytic psychotherapy was as effective as other short term therapies (see also Glass, 2008). More recently, evidence is emerging that psychoanalytic psychotherapy can be more effective than other frequently used therapies, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) or even anti-depressants. A good, readable review of some of these findings may be found in the article Getting to Know Me by Dr. J. Schedler in the November/December 2010 issue of Scientific American/Mind, or for a more detailed study, see his article in American Psychologist (2010) The Efficacy of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy.

Fewer studies have compared psychoanalysis with other therapies, given the extreme confidentiality and limited number of psychoanalytic patients available for research; however, in a larger Swedish study in 2001, Blomberg, Lazar and Sandell followed 405 patients who underwent either long term psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. They found moderate effect sizes (higher well being) for the psychotherapy, but large effect sizes for psychoanalysis. Perhaps most important was the finding that when they measured patients many months after the treatment had finished (on a variety of well being measures) the gains made during therapy were maintained much better by the patients who undertook psychoanalysis than those who underwent psychotherapy. This provides some evidence that one of the ways in which psychoanalysis may help a patient is by changing how they relate to themselves by, in a sense, developing the ability to become their own therapist, providing resilience against stress and difficult life events in the future.

These few studies are not provided to convince you of the efficacy of psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic psychotherapy over other forms of therapy, but to counter the all too frequent and erroneous claims of some psychotherapists that there is no evidence that psychoanalytic therapies work.

References

Blomberg, J, Lazar, A, Sandell, R. (2001) Long-term outcome of long-term psychoanalytically oriented therapies: First findings of the Stockholm Outcome of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis Study, Psychotherapy Research, 11, 361-382.

Glass, R. (2008): Psychodynamic psychotherapy and research evidence: Bambi survives Godzilla. Journal of the American Medical Association, 300, 1587-1589.

Leichsenring, F, Rabung, S. & Leibung E. (2004) The Efficacy of short term psychodynamic psychotherapy in specific psychiatric disorders: A meta analysis, Archives of General Psychiatry, 61, 1208-1216.

Schedler, J. (2011) Getting to Know Me, Scientific American Mind, November, p 53 - 57; see http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=getting-to-know-me.

Schedler, J. (2010) The Efficacy of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 65, 98-109.