The most recent edition of the National Psychologist contains two articles concerning evidence-based treatment. Unfortunately, the online edition hasn't been updated yet and the articles are only out in hard copy.
For those of you who are not of the cognoscenti, evidence-based treatment is simply treatment with a clear research base. The research establishes that certain procedures are helpful for certain types of problems. My previous post describes an evidence-based treatment for OCD.
The first article, by Thomas Habib, opens with a bizarre story. Apparently a managed care network, Managed Health Network, wants to establish a category of, what Habib calls, an "elite clinician." I'm not sure if it's Habib's words or theirs'; I couldn't find it on their web site. Essentially, this elite clinician would be someone who has been trained in and practices evidence-based treatment. I assume that these elite clinicians would be given priority in referrals.
Habib is worried about the perceived deadly combination of managed care and evidence-based treatment. He states,
No one is against evidenced based practices. As mentioned above, how this goal was pursued and the disregard of how this might strait jacket psychology and be misused by mangled care is the problem.
"Mangled care" is an obvious shot at managed care. Certainly somewhat deserved, but then, our hands aren't entirely clean, either. There have been far too many clinicians who weren't good at getting change, but were very good at keeping clients in therapy for extended periods of time.
Managed care credentialing for clinicians doing evidence-based treatment is silly. From experience, I know this will fail, because it won't save MHN any money. Back in the 1980's, when managed care blew into Pennsylvania, I spent an incredible amount of time on the phone with "care managers," who would authorize treatment for my clients. Once I learned what they wanted to hear, it was no problem to get sessions authorized. I got to know a lot of care managers by name and we'd chat about our families before getting down to business. But, eventually, telephone authorizations became too expensive, and most of my telephone friends had to get other jobs. Now, my secretary fills out a page, I add the diagnosis, and sign it. Bingo! Another 10 sessions.
So, let me assure you, Dr. Habib. This will end with a whimper, and you'll be left with a mild bit of bureaucracy. Nothing to get excited about. Managed care isn't going to hurt you with evidence-based treatment requirements because it's too expensive to do so.
But, is evidence-based treatment a "strait jacket?" Absolutely not, and the second article illustrates my point clearly. Surprisingly the author, Frank Dattilio, also thinks he's attacking evidence-based treatment. He should really know better, as he has extensive training and publication in cognitive-behavior therapy. In his article, he tells the story of Corey, a young psychiatrist completing his fellowship. Corey brought him a tape of a therapy session, of which he was very proud. Dattilio viewed the tape and said,
Much to my dismay, the same things kept cropping up repeatedly during the course of the session--a dry, robotic type of interaction that almost appeared as though it was scripted.
At the end, Corey said to me, "So what do you think?" I was speechless. Before I had a chance to say anything, he interrupted me by saying, "I think it's classic cognitive-behavior therapy. I don't believe I left one thing out."
"Well, there is one thing that is missing," I replied. Corey looked at me perplexed, "What did I forget?" "You!" I exclaimed, "You, the therapist is missing."
It's a wonderful story, and a great cautionary tale to young therapists, who, unsure of themselves, want to retreat into "techniques." Since the 1950's, we've known the quality of the therapeutic relationship has a strong effect on therapeutic outcomes. Wampold (2001) has a good review of the data. Maintaining a good relationship with the client, being empathic and supportive, is part of any evidence-based treatment. Just look at Beck, Rush, Shaw, and Emery (1979).
The sad thing is that we continue to argue about evidence-based treatment even though we consider psychology to be a science. If psychology is a science, we believe the data. If psychology is a science, we opt first for treatments that the data shows are worthwhile. No one expects us to give up our clinical judgment and our empathy in the process. Being empathic and supportive is just another evidence-based therapy.
All psychotherapies are like seeds. They cannot grow into a beautiful flower without the fertile soil that the humanity of a good therapist provides. Clinicians do not need to fear evidence-based therapies.
Beck, A. T., Rush, A. J., Shaw, B. F., & Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive therapy of depression. New York: Guilford.
Dattilio, F. M. (2006). Evidence based treatment may be too confining. National Psychologist, 15(5), 23.
Habib, T. A. (2006). A profession in search of legitimacy. National Psychologist, 15(5), 14.
Wampold, B. E. (2001). The great psychotherapy debate: Models, methods, and findings. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates.