Therapy is a serious task for both the client and health care provider. It is deeply personal, and it can be emotionally challenging. Given the emotional and financial costs of therapy, as well as the risks associated with not improving, it is important that the investment is worth the risk.
Many clients would be surprised to learn that of the hundreds of available forms of therapy, very few actually have any empirical support to demonstrate their effectiveness. Many are based on anecdotal evidence, or the psychotherapist's personal opinion that a certain technique would be helpful. Some are based on poorly conducted studies that lack adequate scientific controls.
That CBT is empirically supported means that it has been shown to be effective in Randomized Control Trials (RCTs). These are the same standards that pharmaceutical companies must meet to show that their drugs are providing true benefits.
RCTs compare a treatment group to a control group. The treatment group receives CBT, for example, whereas the control group does not. The control group may instead receive treatment in the community, weekly phone calls, supportive listening or be put on a wait-list and receive no care. Researchers then assess progress made by people in each group, and compare them against each other.
If people made the same amount of progress in each group, we would know that CBT is not exceptionally useful. Actual RCTs show, however, that people in the CBT group show significantly more progress than the control groups, and they prove that CBT is particularly effective.
For example, when progress by individuals receiving CBT is compared to progress of those who meet weekly with a supportive listener, we see that the benefits of CBT are much more substantial than benefits of simply receiving support. Supportive listening is certainly helpful and does lead to some reduction in symptoms. But by doing CBT, people learn new behaviors that over time reduce or eliminate their symptoms, and that makes a big difference in the sustainability of their progress.
It's not just the type of therapy that influences progress. Another reason people might get better in any form of therapy is simply that "time heals all wounds." By comparing individuals receiving CBT to individuals on a wait-list, we can see that people undergoing CBT get better in ways that go beyond simply feeling better with time. They get better faster, and stay better longer. This is important information to have; you wouldn't want to pay for therapy if you knew that just waiting around would be just as effective.
The bottom line is: when it comes to finding treatment for your anxiety disorder, you shouldn't have to cross your fingers and hope for the best. With CBT, you don't have to.
- Dr. Lakin