The push towards Evidence-Based Therapy is a movement in psychology that aims to track the efficacy of treatment plans, with the goal of providing clients with treatments that have solid evidence backing their effectiveness.
This article will cover what Evidence-Based Therapy is, how it relates to the idea of evidence-based practice, and why it is important.
Finally, some examples of Evidence-Based Therapy will be discussed, and recommendations will be provided for further reading on Evidence-Based Therapy.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.
Evidence-Based Therapy (EBT), more broadly referred to as evidence-based practice (EBP), is any therapy that has shown to be effective in peer-reviewed scientific experiments. According to the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, evidence-based practice is characterized by an:
“[a]dherence to psychological approaches and techniques that are based on scientific evidence”.
The American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association both consider EBT/EBP to be:
“‘best practice’ and one of the ‘preferred’ approaches for the treatment of psychological symptoms”.
In relevant literature, evidence-based medicine has also been defined as the:
“conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients”
(Sackett et al., 1996).
Recently, this definition has expanded to include “consideration of patients’ preferences, actions, clinical state, and circumstances” (Cook et al., 2017). This expansion of the definition is particularly important in the context of psychotherapy where the effectiveness of the treatment is in large part determined by the patient’s investment and belief in the efficacy of the treatment.
To sum up these discussions, we can think of Evidence-Based Therapy or practice as referring to psychotherapy practices that have research that been proven effective rather than based solely on theory.
The Goals and Benefits of Evidence-Based Therapy
Two of the main goals behind evidence-based practice are:
increased quality of treatment, and
Meeting these goals will make it more likely that patients will only pay for and undergo treatments that have shown to be effective (Spring, 2007). Research has shown that Evidence-Based Therapy is indeed cost-effective (Emmelkamp et al., 2014), likely due to the decrease in time spent receiving treatment compared to those undergoing treatment plans which may or may not be effective.
In fact, some commentators have even argued that, along with the push for Evidence-Based Therapy, subscribers to EBT should also promote therapy that has shown to be cost-effective as well as clinically effective (Castelnuovo et al., 2016).
These commentators have also stressed that caution must be taken to ensure that this does not result in treatment plans that are only cheap because they are ineffective (or of unknown effectiveness) in other words, there should be an emphasis on EBT being both clinically effective and cost-effective, not just one of the two.
Some recent literature has also argued that the therapist has more of an impact on treatment effectiveness than the therapy practices deployed, leading one paper to declare that “the time is overdue for the psychotherapy field as a whole to research and develop the idea of evidence-based therapists” rather than simply focusing on Evidence-Based Therapy (Blow & Karam, 2017).
Proponents argue that since certain therapists are more effective for certain clients than other therapists (Kraus et al., 2016), therapists should then be held accountable for their effectiveness just like treatment plans are.
If adopted, this approach would likely involve tracking a therapist’s success rate and ensuring that they continue to provide proof of their effectiveness, just as one would assess the effectiveness of a certain treatment plan. This idea is still in its infancy, but it may prove to be a popular one in the coming years.
Examples of Interventions Used in Evidence-Based Therapy
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of scenarios in which one or more therapies have been shown to effectively treat psychological symptoms.
Listing them all would make for an extremely long read; instead, consider these examples and continue looking for more in the areas that interest you.
1. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has been shown to be effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders, depression, addiction, and certain physical health issues (A-Tjak et al., 2015).
A recent meta-analysis of 39 randomized controlled trials (RCT, often called the “gold standard” of determining clinical effectiveness) found that ACT was more effective than either placebo or what the researchers called “treatment as usual,” or the standard treatment for such issues; however, ACT was not found to outperform cognitive behavioral therapy.
In recent years, several independent meta-analyses have found solid evidence for the effectiveness of CBT in treating anxiety (Carpenter et al., 2018), depression (in all treatment delivery formats; Cuijpers, Noma, Karyotaki, Cipriani, & Furukawa, 2019), psychosis (Hazell, Hayward, Cavanagh, & Strauss, 2016), Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD; Harrison, de la Cruz, Enander, Radua, & Mataix-Cols, 2016), and eating disorders (Linardon, Wade, de la Piedad Garcia, & Brennan, 2017), among other psychological issues.
Due to its wide-reaching effectiveness, CBT is a commonly used treatment for a variety of ailments.
Although CBT is a big commitment, requiring a large investment of both time and resources (not to mention effort and energy on behalf of both therapist and patient), it has been so effective for so many disorders, which has led some researchers to explore the possibilities in making CBT more accessible.
One such effort examined the feasibility of internet-delivered cognitive behavior therapy (IBCT), which found that ICBT can be effective in treating children and adolescents with anxiety and depressive symptoms (Vigerland et al., 2016). CBT is an effective, evidence-based treatment plan for a wide range of disorders, so making it accessible as possible should be a priority. ICBT is a crucial first step towards that goal.
3. Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is also an evidence-based treatment, as it has been shown to be effective for relieving the symptoms and improving outcomes for patients with both borderline personality disorder (BPD) and substance abuse (Linehan et al., 1999) as well as for patients with trichotillomania (Keuthen et al., 2011).
As a side note, DBT may benefit more than just patients with BPD; there is also evidence that DBT may be an effective treatment for other psychological issues, including patients struggling with intellectual disabilities, but more research is needed to determine its effectiveness (McNair et al., 2017).
What a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) session looks like
As noted earlier, CBT research has proven it as effective for the treatment of both MDD and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), along with several other disorders (Gratzer & Goldbloom, 2016); however, the addition of mindfulness to cognitive therapy may boost its effectiveness in some situations.
The Five Best Books on Evidence-Based Therapy
If you want to explore the more in-depth discussions of Evidence-Based Therapy and how to incorporate it into your own practice, consider picking up these five books on EBT.
1. Psychodynamic Therapy: A Guide To Evidence-Based Practice – Richard Summers and Jacques Barber
This is a good book for therapists who wish to practice evidence-based psychodynamic therapy.
While psychodynamic therapy has been around for a long time, this book aims to incorporate new movements in psychology, including positive psychology, to provide an up-to-date picture of what Evidence-Based Therapy looks like when it comes to psychodynamic therapy.
This makes it an especially good option for psychodynamic therapists who believe in the positive psychology movement.
It also focuses on applying the teachings of the book into one’s practice, so it can be an actionable book. Any marriage and family therapist who wants to incorporate Evidence-Based Therapy into their practice can start with this book.
5. The Evidence-Based Practitioner: Applying Research to Meet Client Needs, First Edition – Catana Brown
Finally, this book doesn’t focus on any particular disorder and doesn’t even focus on therapy itself.
This is a guide to incorporating evidence-based practices for all sorts of medicinal fields, including doctors as well as therapists.
While it is not written specifically for therapists, it does teach the reader step-by-step how they can incorporate evidence-based techniques into their own practice.
This is an excellent option for anyone interest in Evidence-Based Therapy since it is not specific to a disorder and discusses the entire process of evaluating the literature to incorporating it into one’s practice.
When it comes to any treatment plan for any sort of problem, your major concern is probably about the effectiveness of the treatment. Although questions about cost-effectiveness, ease of compliance with the treatment, and the treatment’s impact on your lifestyle may be high on your list, the most important question to ask is probably “But does it actually work?”
The field of therapy can only become stronger from this push for evidence-based techniques and practices. The more this movement is embraced, the better off patients and clients will be.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Would you engage in a form of treatment that was not backed by scientific evidence? Have you benefited from non-EBT treatments? How much evidence do you think is required for something to be officially “EBT?” Let us know in the comments.
Yes, CBT is an evidence-based practice. It is supported by a large body of empirical research demonstrating its effectiveness in treating a range of mental health conditions.
Is Gestalt evidence-based?
Gestalt therapy is not considered an evidence-based practice in the same way that CBT, DBT, and other empirically supported treatments are. However, some research has suggested that Gestalt therapy may be effective in treating certain mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression (Raffagnino, 2019).
Is DBT evidence-based?
DBT is considered an evidence-based practice, with a strong body of research demonstrating its effectiveness in treating borderline personality disorder and other conditions characterized by emotional dysregulation (Raffagnino, 2019).
About Psychological Treatment. (u.d.). Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. Retrieved from http://www.abct.org/Help/?m=mFindHelp&fa=WhatIsEBPpublic.
Blow, A. J., Karam, E. A. (2017). The Therapist’s Role in Effective Marriage and Family Therapy Practice: The Case for Evidence Based Therapists. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 44(5), 716-723.
Castelnuovo, G., Pietrabissa, G., Cattivelli, R., Manzoni, G. M., Molinari, E. (2016). Frontiers in Psychology, 7(1), 563.
Cook, S. C., Schwartz, A. C., Kaslow, N. J. (2017). Evidence-Based Psychotherapy: Advantages and Challenges. Neurotherapeutics, 14(3), 537-545.
Emmelkamp, P. M. G., David, D., Beckers, T., Muris, P., Cuijpers, P., Lutz, W., Andersson, G., Araya, R., Rivera, R. M. B., Barkham, M., Berking, M., Berger, T., Botella, C., Carlbring, P., Colom, F., Essau, C., Hermans, D., Hofmann, S. G., Knappe, S., Ollendick, T. H., Raes, F., Rief, W., Riper, F., Van der Oord, S., Vervliet, B. (2014). Advancing psychotherapy and evidence-based psychological interventions. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 23(S1), 58-91.
Gratzer, D., & Goldbloom, D. (2016). Making Evidence-Based Psychotherapy More Accessible in Canada. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 61(10), 618-623.
Keuthen, N. J., Rothbaum, B. O., Falkenstein, M. J., Meunier, S., Timpano, K. R., Jenike, M. A., & Welch, S. S. (2011). DBT-Enhanced Habit Reversal Treatment for Trichotillomania: 3-and 6-Month Follow-Up Results. Depression and Anxiety, 28(4), 310-313.
Kraus, D. R., Bentley, J. H., Alexander, P. C., Boswell, J. F., Constantino, M. J., Baxter, E. E., & Castonguay, L. G. (2016). Predicting Therapist Effectiveness From Their Own Practice-Based Evidence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 84(6), 473-483.
Lilja, J. L., Zelleroth, C., Axberg, U., & Norlander, T. (2016). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is effective as relapse prevention for patients with recurrent depression in Scandinavian primary health care. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 57(5), 464-472.
Linehan, M. M., Schmidt, H., Dimeff, L. A., Craft, J. C., Kanter, J., & Comtois, K. A. (1999). Dialectical Behavior Therapy for patients with borderline personality disorder and drug-dependence. American Journal on Addictions, 8(4), 279-292.
McNair, L., Woodrow, C., & Hare, D. (2017). Dialectical Behaviour Therapy [DBT] with People with Intellectual Disabilities: A Systematic Review and Narrative Analysis. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual DIsabilities, 30(5), 787-804.
Raffagnino, R. (2019). Gestalt therapy effectiveness: A systematic review of empirical evidence. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 7(6), 66-83.
Sackett, D. L., Rosenberg, W. M. C., Gray, J. A. M., Haynes, R. B., & Richardson, W. S. (1996). Evidence based medicine: what it is and what it isn’t. BMJ, 312(1), 71-72.
Spring, B. (2007). Evidence-based practice in clinical psychology: What it is, why it matters; What you need to know. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 63(7), 611-631.
Van Lith, T., Stallings, J. W., & Harris, C. E. (2017). Discovering good practice for art therapy with children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder: The results of a small scale survey. Arts in Psychotherapy, 54(1), 78-84.
Vigerland, S., Lenhard, F., Bonnert, M., Lalouni, M., Hedman, E., Ahlen, J., Olen, O., Serlachius, E., & Ljotsson, B. (2016). Internet-delivered cognitive behavior therapy for children and adolescents: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 50(1), 1-10.
Withers, R., Tsang, Y. Y., & Zwicker, J. G. (2017). Intervention and management of developmental coordination disorder: Are we providing evidence-based services? Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy-Revue Canadienne D Ergotherapie, 84(3), 158-167.
About the author
Joaquín Selva, Bc.S., Psychologist is a behavioral neuroscience researcher and scientific editor. Joaquín was both a teaching assistant and a research assistant and conducted research that led to the publication of three peer-reviewed papers. Since then, his work has included writing for PositivePsychology.com and working as an English editor for academic papers written by non-native English speakers.
What our readers think
This article is to the point and very understandable. Examples are excellent.
This article is wildly misleading. Empirical research does not reveal that evidence-based therapies are more effective — “evidence-based therapy” is a blatant misnomer. Please do your own research after reading this article!
Hello, thanks for the excellent article. Is it possible to get it in pdf. version? Sincerely, Barbara
I’m afraid we don’t currently have an option to download these posts as PDF, but I will certainly pass the suggestion onto our team.
Thank you for being a reader.
– Nicole | Community Manager
Simply wish to say your article is as amazing. The clearness in your post is simply great and i can think you’re an expert on this subject. Fine with your permission let me to grab your feed to keep updated with drawing close post. Thanks a million and please continue the gratifying work.
Thank you for your kind feedback. Yes, please feel free to continue following us. You can always check in here to see our latest posts. 🙂
– Nicole | Community Manager
I really enjoyed reading this article, especially the examples about EBP. thanks to the publisher
Great article. Gives great insight in understanding EBP.
The author should be careful about using the term “proven to be effective.” That term is misleading and violates scientific principals. Instead, he should have stated that a particular therapy/ intervention has research supporting its effectiveness. Just because a drug or treatment has one research supporting its effectiveness does not mean it has been “proven” to be effective because there could be 10 other unpublished studies showing that the drug/treatment fails to treat the targeted condition.
Very important point. Thank you.
I agree wholeheartedly with Jay. I encourage people to educate themselves about some of the pitfalls involved in research in psychology. Searching on the phrase “replication crisis psychology” is a good start.
This is a great article. I want to cite it along with the author but I’m not sure how? Jaoquin who?….
Hi Ollicia, I’m glad to hear you found the article of value! The author’s full name is, Joaquin Selva.
Selva, J. (2017). What is evidence-based therapy: 3 EBT interventions. Positive Psychology. Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/evidence-based-therapy/
Very well written and researched! I appreciate your time and insights. Best, Sarah May.
Thank you for this article. Now I know where to start my assignment on EBP. Cheers, Lynette.