Beginning Evidenced-Based Therapy: What is it? & What can you expect?

Jun 17, 2021

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By Laura Miller, LMSW

Most of us will face challenging and stressful situations at some point in our lives and find ourselves needing more support. This is a normal part of human experience; out of necessity, humans evolved into social beings, as dependence and cooperation with one another enhanced the ability to survive. Although survival threats may be lower today, we still see that people continue to need support from others. In fact, lack of support can actually lead to increase stress.

At times, you may be able to cope with stressful life situations on your own or with the support of a trusted loved one. However, difficult circumstances may also include emotional symptoms such as depressed mood or anxiety or cognitive symptoms such as repetitive and upsetting thoughts or uncontrollable worry. It may be that even with support, that these symptoms don’t resolve. When this happens, it makes sense to consider seeking professional mental health support. The American Psychological Association recommends seeking therapy when a problem has become distressing and it is interfering with some aspect of life. Yet, you also don’t need to have a significant stressor or problem to benefitfrom therapy. If you find yourself curious about the process and can find value in having more support, that is reason enough to begin!

Benefits of Therapy & Evidenced-Based Treatments

While therapy can be a daunting process to begin, there have been numerous advances in the treatment of psychological disorders and there are many research studies to show that therapy is helpful! Treatments known as “evidenced-based treatments” (EBTs) are treatments that have been developed through extensive research and shown to be effective in treating specific symptoms. Not all mental health treatments are equally helpful and some therapies have been shown to work better than others. Due to the extensive research that goes in to developing EBTs and the amount of data showing their effectiveness in decreasing symptoms, EBTs are listed as “best practice” and “preferred” approaches for mental health symptoms by both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association. In fact, research has demonstrated that some EBTs actually result in larger symptom improvement than pharmacological treatments, as they teach life skills that last beyond the course of medication.  There are several EBTs, including therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy and  Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

What Can You Expect?

EBTs are structured and focused, and they are meant to help improve specific problem areas. In order to best meet a client’s needs, treatment first begins with a therapist conducting a clinical interview to determine problem areas. During the interview a therapist will ask a series of questions to assess overall functioning and may also give specific checklists or questionnaires to further understand the severity of problems.

EBTs require the client to take an active role. Therapy is geared at changing thoughts and behavior, rather than just talking about problems or listening to a therapist give advice. In order to achieve this, a client and therapist will collaboratively develop a plan or agenda for every session. The agenda then acts as a guide to complete several steps that are aimed at solving the problem.

Clients will learn to practice specific skills that are aimed at helping to improve the client’s problem areas. In order for clients to learn skills and integrate them into their day to day life, clients are asked to practice skills in-between sessions. Most EBTs usually involve some form of homework as practice is key to developing new behaviors and generalizing them to outside of the therapy session. Many EBTs will also include some form of self-monitoring, so that clients can learn to observe their behaviors, keep track of interventions and skills to help, and see overall improvement.

Treatment is typically short-term, lasting anywhere from 12-20 sessions. However, many people find it useful to return to treatment after completing the EBT for “booster” sessions as needed, in which clients can continue to refine their skills.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many EBT programs started to be conducted online through tele-therapy. Check out a previous BPS blog post to learn more about how an evidenced-based treatment can also be delivered virtually!

The decision to begin therapy is personal, however, with so many evidenced-based therapies that have extensive data to show their effectiveness, there is certainly something that could benefit everyone!