by Michael D. Anestis, Ph.D.
A few days ago, the New York TImes published an article in their Sunday Review entitled "Is therapy forever? Enough already." The title was exciting, as it seemed to indicate that the piece might explain that scientific evidence supports the efficacy and effectiveness of a number of time-limited, manualized treatments for specific diagnoses. Yes! Science leaking through the pages of the Times rather than empty pro-psychoanalysis rhetoric!
Sadly, I was disappointed. Although the piece has been spoken about positively by a number of people for whom I have immense amounts of respect, it seemed to lump all forms of therapy together as one, spoke vaguely about "aggressive" therapists, and generally oversimplified the entire process, leaving individuals in need of help with no sense of how to differentiate between evidence-based and experimental (or worse) forms of treatment. In fact, the only specific information was about the services provided by the author himself.
Things took a turn for the worse today, however, when I was directed to a retort published on Forbes.com in which a proponent of long-term psychotherapy blindly cited widely discredited (or least HIGHLY controversial) studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the British Journal of Psychiatry, and the American Psychologist, which we have addressed at length on this site (click here, here, and here for examples) - even referring to Shedler's unfortunate piece as an "instant classic." These studies claim to show that long-term psychotherapy is superior to short-term psychotherapy and that psychodynamic psychotherapy is not only effective, but more so than cognitive behavioral therapy. The writer did this without mentioning the controversy surrounding those articles, which is more than a little ironic given that he cited them in a sentence in which he was accusing somebody else of cherry picking evidence. The writer did have some interesting comments regarding the manner in which the Times writer represents himself on his website, but ultimately his piece was simply another regurgitation of fautly evidence that supposedly supports the use of his favored form of treatment and which perpetuates the problem of ever-present unvalidated treatments for mental illness by once again being spoonfed to a large audience of readers who have no way of knowing the degree to which the words they are reading run counter to reality.
My point here is not simply to point out to you that two more bad articles have been sent into highly cyberspace on sites with heavy readership, but rather to issue a call to arms to scientists with any interest in seeing the public benefit from their amazing work rather than continuing to fall into the trap of buying the messages of charlatans. Please - as often as you can - write articles for major newspapers and/or websites. Please, join Twitter or some other social media site and send out links to articles (or pages that explain them in easier to understand terms). Please post educational videos on YouTube or given presentations to local groups seeking to learn about mental illness and its treatment. Please, appear on television, no matter how ridculous the program, and explain what it is you do, why it is so important, and how the messages people hear about mental health through the media are almost always completely wrong and often actually dangerous. That type of work does not get any of us closer to tenure and, given that this is my first post on PBB in a month, clearly I put significantly more focus into my own research than I do into this type of thing as well, so I'm not pointing fingers here. I'm simply saying that an organized effort on the part of scientifically-minded psychologists to actually try to get their message more publicity and counter the ever-present voice of non-scientifically-minded salesmen would have the potential to benefit a huge number of people. Any effort helps.