What are “evidence-based” treatments?

The term “Evidence-Based Treatments” refers to treatments that have undergone controlled research studies, the results of which inform decisions regarding treatment approaches that the therapist should adopt. There are existing treatment approaches which have not undergone adequate research and therefore are not considered “evidence-based”.

Evidence-Based Treatments used by Clinical Psychologists
Psychologists & Clinical Psychologists attempt to adopt only evidence-based therapies in treatment. The most well known of these are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Interpersonal Psychotherapy. More recently, there has been growing interest in an approach known as “Acceptance & Commitment Therapy” and Mindfulness-based therapies. They are in their infancy with regards to treatment outcome studies but the initial results are promising! For a brief summary of each approach, see below.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): This is a time-limited therapy approach which explores the thoughts and feelings that arise in response to various situations or events. It encourages people to examine and challenge unrealistic thoughts and assumptions by exploring alternative explanations and considering the evidence for thinking particular thoughts (e.g. if I hear a noise and automatically assume that it must be a thief, thereby provoking anxious feelings what could be an alternative explanation?). The goal is to work towards an alternative response (thought & action) that is more helpful and realistic. The premise is if we are able to achieve this, then this will help to improve our emotional experience. Studies have shown CBT to be effective in the treatment of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, relationship problems and anger.

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is a form of therapy that emphasises the centrality of relationships in understanding conditions such as depression and anxiety. IPT is a time-limited therapy approach and does not focus on understanding the underlying causes to depression or other psychiatric illness. Rather, it is interested in improving relationships which in turn is proposed to improve the symptoms. The research has shown IPT to be particularly effective in the treatment of depression.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of treatment that is part of what is being dubbed as the “third wave” in cognitive and behavioural therapy. It encourages people to take a stance of acceptance towards their thoughts and feelings (pleasant or otherwise) and give up the agenda of controlling the things that cannot be controlled. (NB. Acceptance is not the same as resignation). ACT approaches are also committed to encouraging people to reconnect with and clarify their values – the bigger picture for their lives – and to commit to living with their values as the ‘compass’ for the actions they choose to take in responding to life. This form of therapy while based in the behaviourist models of the 1970’s, is still in its infancy with regards to scientific data. Preliminary studies however, have shown the effectiveness of this approach for a range of conditions including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, epilepsy, addictive behaviours, stress and psychosis.

Mindfulness, also a part of what is considered “third wave” therapies, focuses on training our mind to practice awareness in a way that helps us to be grounded in the here & now. One method for developing mindfulness skills is through the practice of meditation. However, mindfulness can be practiced at any given moment of the day. It has been shown to be helpful with conditions such as depression and managing chronic pain.