Does CBT therapy and mindfulness work?
The world is full of great ideas to make you happy. But how do you know what works? The only way to be sure is to follow the science.
So this is what we’ve done at Openforwards. We’ve trained in the methods that have been shown to work. Cognitive Behavioural Therapies (CBT) and Mindfulness-based approaches have strong evidence that they work. A review in 2006 showed that CBT even out-performs medication for stress, anxiety and depression.
If you search in journals and on the internet, you’ll quickly find that “CBT is the most successful therapeutic approach on the planet” (Hooper & Larrson, 2015).
The Background to Research
Since CBT was invented in the 1970s it has been tried, tested and developed to help people struggling psychologically. Psychiatry, which is a branch of medicine, breaks down emotional and behavioural problems into categories it calls ‘disorders’. You’ll recognise these through the terms:
- Generalised Anxiety (GAD)
- Social Phobia
- Obsessive Compulsive (OCD)
- Panic Disorder
- Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD).
Although mainstream Psychiatry labels problems as disorders, this is entirely misleading. The reason is that despite 70 years of research, there are no known biological markers that distinguish depression from anxiety.
You can’t do a blood test for depression or anxiety
Unfortunately, explanations of mental health problems are massively influenced by global pharmaceutical corporations who have vested financial interests in on-going prescribing. Conflicts of interest make it difficult to trust the validity of drug trials and independent reviews have shown that anti-depressant medication is no more effective than placebo.
The way psychotherapy research is undertaken needs to change. Hopefully, we will start to see this change in the not too distant future so that research and therapy practice can focus much more on key processes that contribute to human suffering. In fact, it has already started in the area of contextual behavioural science which is the home of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy or ACT.
How Effective is Psychotherapy?
Despite the unfortunate marriage of CBT to psychiatry, significant developments have been made in therapy. We now know that CBT is an effective therapy for depression, anxiety, addiction, trauma and a range of other problems. It isn’t perfect. In fact, it is no where near. Studies into the effectiveness of psychotherapies, roughly show that they have a 50% effectiveness.
Mindfulness-focused therapies including Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) have been shown to provide effective relief from stress related to work and a demanding life.
Whilst CBT and other types of therapy do not make everyone ‘better’ it does help many people. This has been shown in countless controlled trials, case studies and NHS services client outcome data. Not only does people’s health and well-being improve during therapy, it has been shown to continue long after they’ve finished.
Caution * We use the word ‘disorder’ with extreme caution. It is a psychiatric term, which takes the view that anxiety problems are an illness with a biological cause. Whilst some types of psychological experience have common features e.g. obsessive compulsive tendencies, there is no evidence to suggest that psychiatric disorders even exist. There are no known biological markers. This is problematic because it creates the impression that suffering is ‘abnormal’ and requires medical intervention. In reality, the prescribing of anti-depressant medication does very little to alleviate anxiety or depression (Kirsch L., 2008, Challenging Received Wisdom: Anti-depressants and the placebo effect, McGill J Med., 11(2): 219-22)
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