Is Psychotherapy Effective?

Largest-Ever Survey on Mental Health Care Consumer Reports Finds Psychotherapy Usually Works & Offers Guide to the Best Care

Source: PR Newswire

YONKERS, N.Y., Oct. 16 /PRNewswire/ via NewsPage — In a survey of Consumer Reports magazine readers, nearly nine out of 10 respondents who had sought mental-health care said their condition had improved significantly after psychotherapy treatment.

The survey, whose results are published in the magazine’s November issue, is the largest ever done to query people about the treatment they received for emotional or mental distress. Four thousand Consumer Reports subscribers who responded had sought help from a mental-health provider or a family doctor for psychological problems, or had joined a self-help group. The majority were highly satisfied with the care they received; almost all said life had become more manageable.

Among the findings:

The longer people stayed in therapy, the more they improved.
People who started out feeling the worst reported the most progress.
Almost three-quarters of those seeking professional help went to a mental-health specialist.
Readers who sought help from their family doctor tended to do well. But people who saw a mental-health specialist for more than six months did much better.
People were just as satisfied and reported similar progress whether they saw a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Those who consulted a marriage counselor were somewhat less likely to feel they’d been helped.
Most people who went to a self-help group were very satisfied with the experience and said they got better. People were especially grateful to Alcoholics Anonymous.
44% of people whose emotional state was ‘very poor’ at the start of treatment said they now feel good. Another 43% who started out ‘very poor’ also improved significantly, though somewhat less.
People who received only psychotherapy improved as much as those who got psychotherapy combined with medication, like Prozac or Xanax. Most people who took such drugs felt they were helpful; but almost half reported side effects.

Forty percent of respondents who sought professional help received psychiatric drugs. Those who relied only on their family doctors were much more likely to get such drugs — 83 percent of them did, compared with 20 percent of those who went to mental-health specialists. And almost half the people whose doctors gave them drugs received medication without the benefit of much counseling. Although side-effects with psychiatric drugs are well-known, 20 percent of those on medication said their provider never discussed these potential problems — a disturbing lapse in communication. Equally disturbing — 40 percent of those taking antianxiety drugs had done so for more than a year, even though long-term use results in habituation.

The Consumer Reports article ‘Mental Health: Does Therapy Help?’ also includes a guide to treatments that work best for troubles such as depression, anxiety, panic, and phobias. The guide was compiled by a psychologist from scientific literature; the compilation was reviewed by two psychiatrists and a social worker.

Also in the article is information on insurance coverage for mental- health care, including these questions to ask when choosing a plan:

What are the stated benefits? Pay attention to limits, such as co-payments, limits on the number of hospital days and outpatient sessions, and annual or lifetime maximums.
If the benefits cover only ‘medically necessary’ treatment, who makes that determination? It’s best if that decision is left to you and your therapist.
What are your rights of appeal if coverage is denied or cut short?
In a managed-care plan, how large is the provider panel? The more therapists available, the more likely you’ll find one whose personality and expertise is a good match for you.
Will the plan add new providers to its panel? This can be important if you’re already seeing a therapist who’s not part of the plan but is willing to join.
Which facilities are approved by the plan? Be sure there’s a hospital that’s convenient with a broad spectrum of services. Also look for transitional programs, such as mental-health day centers..

The November issue of Consumer Reports will be available wherever magazines are sold on Tuesday, October 24.

/CONTACT: Linda Wagner of Consumer Reports, 914-378-2433/

[10-16-95 at 22:00 EDT, PR Newswire]