John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

The Consumer Reports Survey on Anxiety and Depression

A recent article in the July 2010 Consumer Reports presents the results of a survey they did with their readers about getting help for Anxiety and Depression.

Conclusion: their sample of readers felt both that both “talk therapy” (psychotherapy) and medication were each effective, but combining the two yielded the best results.

No surprise, here. These findings are very much in line with the behavioral research on the topic. (True clinical studies typically measure outcomes and employ appropriate control groups.)

I often see people in my practice who do not want to go on medication, largely because of side effects. I’m not against medication; I just happen to provide therapy. If my patients want medication I will happily refer them and let them come to their own conclusions about the value medicine in their lives, which I think is the best way to do it. On occasion, I will also see a patient who does not want talk therapy, but only wants the pills. I have no objection to this, either.

What I do find, however, is that often medication treatment alone is good so long as one stays on the medication. If the medication is discontinued -- without psychotherapy -- the symptoms may relapse. This, too, is in line with current research.

A different view of antidepressants was discussed in this post: Antidepressants Don’t Work...Can this be true?

Will Therapy Help?

If this were an infomercial, I’d promise that therapy can help anyone, anytime, anywhere, and I’d guarantee results in thirty days or your money back. But this isn’t a commercial and I’m not trying to sell you anything.

Frankly, therapy is work. When it comes to alleviating distress or creating personal growth, effortless change is a myth. If you want the pain to stop, regardless of the form it takes, you’ll have to direct your attention to your inner life, your relationships, and your actions. You’ll have to seek new insights into who you really are, and you’ll have to tolerate the anxiety that invariably comes from giving old patterns and trying new ones.

Still with me? I hope so. Because therapy works for most people, most of the time. Research consistently shows that people who undergo therapy are better off than approximately 75-80 % of the people who don’t (but have comparable problems or concerns). Frankly, therapy results may not be be guaranteed, but these are pretty good odds, if you ask me.

Psychotherapy asks you to reflect deeply on your life: who you are, what you think, what you feel, and what you do. Believe it or not, this is not as easy as it sounds. All of us, it seems, are prone to a bit of self-deception. One of the benefits of working with a therapist is that he or she can help by virtue of having a measure of objectivity about you that you might not have. Of course, only you know what it’s like to be to you and to have had your life experiences. But if you’re like most of us, you will not always see yourself clearly. This is where a therapist can help you. A therapist will listen carefully to you and work very hard to understand you and your situation from your point-of-view. But after getting to know you, he or she will have insights about you that you may not have had. These insights, by the way, are informed by psychological knowledge and clinical experience. Your therapist tries to give you input that is unique to your particular psychology. This is the beginning to change.

Sometimes I get e-mails from people who are surfing the web, looking for answers. Maybe they want therapy, or maybe they’re just sending out missives to let somebody in the world know that they’re hurting. I always write them back and I invite them to call my office if they are serious about therapy. Usually, I don’t hear back. (The person who is serious about starting therapy is more apt to pick up the phone in the first place and make an appointment.) But I always wonder about the e-mailer I never hear back from. Did they find another therapist? Did they find a solution? Did they decided to bear the status quo for a little longer? Or were they doubtful about whether therapy--the so-called “talking cure”--could actually help them?

Again, if this were an infomercial, I’d say yes, absolutely, results guaranteed. But I tend to believe people are smarter than that. They know infomercials prey on their frustrations and secret wishes for easy, fast results (we all have them). Better, I say, to tell the truth. Therapy can help, but only if you’re willing to throw yourself into the project of finding out who you really are.