Psychotherapy Effectiveness Exaggerated
It’s depressing that psychotherapy inflates its effectiveness in treating depression.
“Scientific literature overstates psychotherapy’s effectiveness in treating depression” a headline on Medical Xpress reads. “The scientific literature paints an overly rosy picture of the efficacy of psychological treatments for depression.”
The article hastens to mitigate the fallout. “This doesn’t mean that psychotherapy doesn’t work,” Steve Hollon, a psychologist from Vanderbilt says. “Psychotherapy does work. It just doesn’t work as well as you would think from reading the scientific literature.” OK, then, how well does it work?
The basic problem arises because clinical studies of the treatments for depression with more positive outcomes are more likely to be published than studies with less favorable results. “It’s like flipping a bunch of coins and only keeping the ones that come up heads,” Hollon said.
That’s not helpful. To assess effectiveness, we need to know the number of tails. By one measure, 13 of 55, or 20%, of NIH-funded research projects did not publish results. That number, however, doesn’t rule out the possibility that the other 42 studies inflated their results. Depression, after all, is a fuzzy subject. What counts as depression? A participant’s mood might improve temporarily after therapy, and be counted as a success, before the subject laps back into old patterns. Or, the subject might get better on his own, and the success get attributed to the psychotherapy. And what is a rational bystander to think of the scientific reliability of channeling Sigmund Freud in “virtual reality” games? (Science Daily)
Subjects can lie, too, Live Science reminds us. That can mess up medical research results. And a psychotherapist’s motivation to look good with the grant money can’t be ignored.
This gets into a bigger problem: the effectiveness of peer review.
“Journal articles are vetted through the process of peer review, but this process has loopholes, allowing treatment benefits to be overstated and potential harms to be understated,” Turner said. “The consumers of this skewed information are health care providers and, ultimately, their patients.”
A similar case of “reporting bias” was found in 2008 in published results of antidepressant drugs. That study created a “considerable stir” at the time. Last month, a survey found that over half of psychological results reported in the the literature were not reproducible (9/05/15).
Psychologists are fingered in another article about bias. Science Daily tells about a new report out of Columbia University that worries about the “vortex of classicism and racism” among psychologists, sociologists, geneticists and neuroscientists who attempt to find the “genetics of intelligence.”
The image of the pure scientist in the white lab coat is gone. Daniel Sarewitz reported in Nature that reproducibility alone will not cure what ails science. Scientists have ideological biases just like everyone else.
More and more, science is tackling questions that are relevant to society and politics. The reliability of such science is often not testable with textbook methods of replication. This means that quality assurance will increasingly become a matter of political interpretation. It also means that the ‘self-correcting norm’ that has served science well for the past 500 years is no longer enough to protect science’s special place in society. Scientists must have the self-awareness to recognize and openly acknowledge the relationship between their political convictions and how they assess scientific evidence.
Science reporters, too, are biased—sometimes admittedly so. New Scientist looked back on “Old Scientist” (i.e., decades-old entries from its archives) and was rather happy with its anti-religious bias over the years. Mick O’Hare commits the fallacy of association, the either-or (false dichotomy) fallacy, and loaded words by picturing religion as “superstition” and using the Oracle at Delphi as an example of religious belief. At the end, he gnashes his teeth at “creationists”—even thinking Dawkins is too lenient on those whom he knows are “not rational thinkers… driven by beliefs, not logic.” But is it logical to use fallacies to make the point?
Rachael Rattner at Live Science also arrogates to herself the scientific high ground, attempting to tell her readers “How Religion Is Good (and Bad) for Mental Health.” She thinks “religion” (if there is any such all-encompassing label) can both cause and prevent depression. But would she confess to a pastor the sin of lumping all religions together into one pot of stew, including Catholicism, Buddhism and generic forms of meditation?
Psychotherapists, reporters and scientists are often caught with their empirical pants down. Before they pretend to offer something better than the old-time religion that calls out to the weary, “Jesus saves,” they should acknowledge their dependence on the hand that feeds them— the Pentateuch.
Psychotherapy is a pseudoscience pretending to be a “scientific” alternative to the gospel in the Creator’s Manual for Mental Health, the Bible. We saw that psychotherapy was struggling to present an image of scientific validity ten years ago (11/13/05). Two years ago, we showed that psychotherapy’s business is shrinking (8/27/13). It’s certainly conceivable that psychotherapists whose business is on the line tend to write rosy-sounding papers showing how well they were doing. Most of them are evolutionary materialists, anyway; why would they feel any compulsion to obey the 9th commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness”?
Yesterday’s horrendous college shooting spree in Oregon points out the twisted mental states possible in those who reject their Maker. The shooter, another loner seeking a name for himself, was not only heavily into the occult and wicca with all its appurtenant evils, but reportedly asked his victims if they were Christians before shooting them in the head (see WND). Nine students were killed and 7 injured. Why was he so angry at Christians? Why didn’t he ask if they were Muslims or Buddhists? Why didn’t he target atheists? Depression and anger often go together, creating entryways for Satan, who hates the true gospel of Jesus Christ and “was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44).
Depressed? Believe in a caring God (2/28/10). You don’t just have to believe it. You can know Him (I John 1:1-5, 5:13-15). The joy of knowing Christ and being grateful for His incomparable love (Romans 5:1-8) dispels depression like sunshine filling a dark room for the first time.