Magazine article Science News

Uncovering Traits of Effective Therapists

Magazine article Science News

Uncovering Traits of Effective Therapists

Article excerpt

Psychotherapy consists of a welter of competing techniques, each touted as a means of achieving better mental health. Yet clinicians and researchers have long noted that some therapists are more helpful than others, regardless of what techniques they employ.

A new analysis of data from an 8-year-old federal study of depression treatments underscores that observation and promises to shed some light on the personal approaches to treatment that make for outstanding psychotherapists.

"Significant differences exist in therapeutic efficacy among therapists, even the experienced and well-trained therapists in [this study]," write psychologist Sidney J. Blatt of Yale University School of Medicine and his coworkers.

The therapists who facilitated the greatest improvement in depressed clients said that they focus on psychological factors, such as distorted thinking and feelings of helplessness, rather than biological disturbances, Blatt's group reports in the December 1996 Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. In addition, superior therapists generally used psychotherapy alone, rather than in combination with psychoactive drugs, in their practices. They also expected treatment for depression to take longer than less effective therapists did.

Clinicians who created a strong therapeutic alliance, a measure of the collaborative bond between therapist and client, were most successful, the scientists argue. One therapist was especially effective even when she simply offered support and advice in brief weekly sessions to clients who received placebo pills, suggesting that a talented clinician needs no formal techniques to exploit the therapeutic alliance. …

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