Finding the Right Treatment: Psychodynamic Psychotherapy as an Effective Choice

ALBANY, NY (03/05/2010)(readMedia)-- A widely discussed research article published in the February 2010 edition of the American Psychologist showed that psychodynamic psychotherapy is effective for treating a variety of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, panic, substance abuse, and eating disorders, in addition to physical illnesses that are made worse by stress. Psychodynamic therapy helps people to understand the psychological underpinnings of their distress, leading them to greater self-awareness, new ways of interacting with others, and, ultimately, to healthier lives. Dr. Andrew Cole, a licensed psychologist and member of the New York State Psychological Association, reviewed the study and offers tips for choosing a mental health professional.

The author of the article, Jonathan Shedler, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, reviewed a large body of research to reach his conclusions. He found that the beneficial outcomes of psychodynamic therapy are at least as strong as other prominent mental health treatments. Moreover, psychological benefits continue to grow even after therapy has ended by initiating ongoing positive changes. "Science confirms what most people understand intuitively-that there is lasting value in self-reflection and self-knowledge," Shelder explained in an interview for this article. "The psychodynamic view is that emotional suffering is woven into the fabric of the person's life and rooted in relationship patterns, inner contradictions, and emotional blind spots. This means that we need to treat the whole person, not just their symptoms."

Dr. Shedler's work also served to challenge recent media reports, which described a short list of psychological treatments as the only effective therapies. Rather, Shedler argued that scientific evidence indicates that other major types of psychotherapy are also effective for treating mental health problems. "The media stories are highly misleading. Certain psychological treatments-typically brief, standardized or 'manualized' treatments-have been actively promoted as 'empirically supported' and 'evidence-based'," Shelder said. "Some researchers imply that these treatments have been tested against psychotherapy as practiced by well qualified therapists in the community and found superior. In head-to-head studies, the so-called 'empirically supported treatments' do not do any better [than other bona-fide psychotherapy approaches]."

Given the variety of choices, and the sometimes complicated body of research on different treatments for mental health problems, how can consumers make informed choices among psychotherapies and clinicians? To help you choose the best provider for you or a family member, consider the following suggestions:

  • Ask yourself what it is you would like from a psychologist. This can seem like a tough question to answer, especially if you have never met with a mental health professional before. However, you do not need to have specific ideas about how psychotherapy can help you. Rather, it is beneficial just to be able to convey a sense of what problem you would like to address and whether you have preferences for your clinician (e.g., whether the professional is male or female, younger or older, works with individuals, couples or families).
  • Try to ensure that your psychologist is a good match, by asking her or her staff a few questions over the phone. Sometimes when a crisis strikes and people recognize the need for professional support, they feel pressured to meet with the first psychotherapist who returns their call. However, this may not always be the best approach.
    Some useful questions to ask before setting up an appointment include:
    - How much experience do you have working with people who have a difficulty similar to mine?
    - Do you currently treat people with this problem?
    - Are you a licensed mental health care professional (such as a psychologist)?
  • You may choose to ask about the therapist's approach to psychotherapy (e.g., Cognitive Behavioral, Psychodynamic, Interpersonal, Family Systems, etc.). However, you definitely do not need to know about all of these types of therapy. A clinician should be able to provide a brief description of how his approach will help you and whether there is research supporting the effectiveness of this therapy with your difficulty.
  • Know that your psychotherapist is well-trained in his methods. Dr. Shedler explained, "I would choose someone with the highest professional credentials because it shows a serious commitment to training." The more knowledge your therapist has about your problem and what is needed to help you, the more you can trust in the therapeutic process. In New York State, psychologists hold a doctorate degree which is the highest level of academic achievement.
  • If you speak with a clinician who does not appear to be a good fit for you, ask her to recommend a colleague who can better meet your needs. Often, psychotherapists are aware of other high quality clinicians or specialists in the community, and they can point you in the right direction.
  • When you meet with a therapist, pay attention to how he or she makes you feel. Dr. Shedler offered this advice, "The right therapist will be interested in you as a whole person and will be able to understand you and help you better understand yourself. He or she should help you put complicated feelings into words, call attention to thoughts and feelings you might otherwise overlook, help you recognize recurring life themes and patterns, and focus on your relationships with others." Ask yourself, "Do you feel seen, heard, and understood? If not, it's probably wise to move on."
  • For further help finding a psychologist, visit or call (800) 445-0899.

The New York State Psychological Association (NYSPA) is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in New York and is the state's largest association of psychologists. NYSPA's membership includes 3,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions and affiliations with county psychological associations, NYSPA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare. The Foundation of NYSPA's primary purpose is to increase public knowledge and understanding of psychology, the psychology profession and the science upon which mental health depends.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, to arrange an interview with a psychologist in your coverage area, or to receive regular editorial and public information articles from the New York State Psychological Association, contact Diane Fisher at 800-732-3933 ext 106, or