Olivia Goldhill in Quartz:
A meta-analyses of 15 studies, published in this month’s volume of Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, found no significant difference in the treatment outcomes for patients who saw a therapist and those who followed a self-help book or online program.
The researchers, led by Robert King, psychology professor at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, evaluated the outcomes of 723 patients who were treated for a variety of mental health conditions, including anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and depression.
All 15 studies involved a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) treatment, and patient outcomes were evaluated by various mental health diagnostic scales, rather than self-assessment.
Contrary to the researchers’ hypothesis that therapists would provide stronger results (though with greater variability), the results showed that therapists were neither more effective nor more variable than self-help options.
“We found no difference in treatment completion rate and broad equivalence of treatment outcomes for participants treated through self-help and participants treated through a therapist. Also, contrary to our expectations, we found that the variability of outcomes was broadly equivalent, suggesting that differences in efficacy of individual therapists were not sufficient to make therapy outcomes more variable when a therapist was involved.”
The results suggest that therapists don’t play such a significant role in improving the treatment of therapy. “An effect size of the magnitude found here means that the best estimate of the effect of the presence or absence of a therapist suggests that this variable accounts for <1% of outcome variance,” the researchers write.