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New Study Supports The Effectiveness of Long-Term Psychodynamic Therapy

Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D. Updated: Oct 6th 2008

psychotherapy sessionFindings from a groundbreaking new review published in the October edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) show that intensive psychodynamic therapy may be the best choice for individuals with severe and chronic mental illnesses. Current study results challenge the recent push toward using shorter forms of psychotherapy with the majority of clinical diagnoses.

During the last twenty-five years or so, the mental health field has experienced growing interest in using evidence-based therapies (EBTs) for mental disorders. EBTs are standardized psychotherapy treatments that have been subjected to rigorous scientific examination and which have shown substantial evidence of efficacy (how well an intervention helps people recover during a clinical study).

For the most part, EBTs are considered the "gold standard" for mental health care.  If you take a look through the treatment recommendations sections of our website, you will see that Cognitive Behavioral and Interpersonal forms of psychotherapy are the most frequently recommended EBTs for treating mental disorders. 

Long term psychodynamic therapy is noticeably absent from the list of EBTs, primarily because historically speaking, this type of psychotherapy was not subjected to intensive research scruntity. Clinicians practicing this form of psychotherapy have long argued that their methods are too client-specific (individualized) to be subjected to the same types of analyses that are used to support the role of EBTs in treatment.

Authors of the current article reviewed 23 studies involving 1,053 patients who met with psychodynamic therapists as often as three times a week for at least a year. Patients being treated were coping with chronic mental disorders (lasting longer than one year); personality disorders; multiple mental disorders (two more disorders); and complex depression and anxiety disorders.

Results showed that patients receiving long-term psychodynamic therapy experienced large positive treatment effects that persisted across time. In some cases, the positive benefits of psychodynamic therapy outweighed those of the EBTs such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

Study results do not surprise some in the mental health community who argue that long-term and intensive forms of therapy may be the best option for certain patients. Individuals with severe and entrenched disorders may respond better to the supportive approach provided by long-term psychoanalysis than the time-limited, symptom-focused strategy of CBT.

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