October 4, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

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.


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  • Harrold says:

    From personal experience I would have to agree. There is more good news in the Creator’s ‘Operators Manual for the Human Being’ than you can poke a stick at. As a broken, damaged by sin, slowly dying sinner (bad news) with seemingly no hope (very depressing), you cannot get bigger and better health-giving news than the availability of eternally good life.

    As the situation stands now, this old original creation still has the original curse (Genesis 3:17) from Adam’s sin (which was inherited by all of Adams descendants) remaining on it. The old corrupted creation will run its course until it is destroyed (2Peter 3:10) and replaced by the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21:1-3; Isaiah 65:7; 66:22; 2Peter 3:13) in which there will be no more sin, corruption, suffering and death (Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:25 Revelation 21:4) and no more curse (Revelation 22:3), but only eternal life. Our residence in this new universe would not be possible without Christ’s sacrifice.

    From beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelation, that, in a nutshell, is the Bibles’ account of man’s history and future.

    This salvation from Christ is not obtained by any good deeds or works (which is not possible anyway) but is obtained simply from the moment we believe in Him. As Christ, who was the Creator Himself manifested in the flesh, said and promised:

    “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness [Numbers 21:8-9], even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:14-15

    The incident Christ was referring to is described in numbers 21:8-9 where God says “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten [by actual serpents], when he looks at it, shall live.”

    The sting of death is caused by sin (which was physically demonstrated by God through poisonous snakes in Numbers 21), but Christ is the antidote.

    Notice God’s instructions were (and still are) simply to “look and live” (which makes it available to anyone). No one was running around doing good deeds and works and gaining credit to get saved. The only thing that works is to look to Christ. Everything else is a dangerous distraction/idolatry.

    So everything will be new all the time. No more sin, death or curse and misery. Nothing gets old or falls apart anymore. Once we grasp this, all devils, infirmities and problems shrink down; many disappearing altogether. And even then, whatever happens to us in this life is nothing compared to a perfect eternity (Romans 8:18).

    Good news of this magnitude is very effective medicine; good for what ails you. “A merry heart does good like a medicine…” Proverbs 17:22

  • Harrold says:

    “Harrold, thanks for commenting, but see if you can be more concise next time, and try not to veer off the point of the article (depression & psychotherapy).”

    I see that now. It was my attempt to point out, in regard to psychological improvement/repair, the overall superiority that the ‘big picture’ of the Gospel message has over anything ever devised by man himself e.g. psychotherapy.

  • rockyway says:

    What is called depression in our day, is quite often (not always) a case of societal demoralization… brought on by political social engineering, and attacks upon traditional institutions. Many people who feel ‘depressed’ are better characterized as being demoralized. Being endlessly you are evil (stupid, etc.) doesn’t exactly lead to feeling great about one’s self.

    – Our political elite treat the common man as an enemy to be defeated. It’s not surprising then that so many people feel depressed.

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