Just as the effectiveness of certain antidepressants and other drugs has been flagged as inaccurate, a new study finds problems with the constant praise of talk therapy.
Psychotherapy has been long praised as the most effective way to treat depression, since delving to the root of the problem often helps people better cope with their pain. While talk therapy certainly works for some people, a new finding shows that scientific literature overstates its effectiveness in treating depression. In fact, the publication bias was comparable to those overstating the efficiency of certain antidepressants.
"This doesn't mean that psychotherapy doesn't work. Psychotherapy does work. It just doesn't work as well as you would think from reading the scientific literature," Steven Hollon, study co-author and Vanderbilt Professor of Psychology, said in a press release.
The core of the problem is that authors who shine a positive light on psychotherapy are more likely to get published than the negative ones. "It's like flipping a bunch of coins and only keeping the ones that come up heads," Hollon explained.
In the study, Hollon and his team looked at 55 U.S. National Institutes of Health grants given to clinical trials evaluating the effectiveness of psychotherapy treatment. The researchers found that, of these studies, 13 (nearly a quarter) hadn’t published their results.
They contacted the researchers of the 13 unpublished studies in order to get a hold of their research data. Then, with the data from both the published and unpublished studies, Hollon and colleagues reanalyzed how the results of all of the studies would comprehensively evaluate psychotherapy’s efficacy. The results showed that, while psychotherapy works, there was a definite publication bias which inflated its effectiveness.
"This study shows that publication bias occurs in psychotherapy, mirroring what we've seen previously with antidepressants and other drugs," said co-author Erick Turner, associate professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at OHSU School of Medicine.
"Journal articles are vetted through the process of peer review, but this process has loopholes, allowing treatment benefits to be overstated and potential harms to be understated," Turner continued. "The consumers of this skewed information are health care providers and, ultimately, their patients."
This study, and previous studies which looked into the biased reviews of drugs, bring to light the critical issue of how information is fed to the public. If the only studies that are made public are the ones that shine a positive glow on psychotherapy and certain drugs, the mental health industry will lack a crucial piece to the puzzle of understanding how to better treat patients with depression.
It’s now time for all scientists and researchers to step up to the plate and expose the truths of mental health research instead of driving forward the most popular conclusion.