RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And if you turn on a TV talk show, it can seem like everyone in America's getting counseling. But how does one find help that's right for you? NPR's Nancy Shute reports on why it can be difficult to find good psychotherapy.
NANCY SHUTE: Scientists have put a lot of effort into testing psychotherapy, to see if it really works. As a result, they now have solid evidence on therapy for common mental problems. But Alan Kazdin, a clinical psychologist and director of the Yale Parenting Center, says you can't always find it.
Dr. ALAN KAZDIN (Director, Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic): And in fact, we have very effective treatments for all sorts of things. And to try to get one of them, if you have a problem, is very difficult.
SHUTE: In fact, there have been thousands of randomized clinical trials done on psychotherapy. They've found behavioral interventions that work just as well as drugs, and with no side effects. One of the great success stories is cognitive behavioral therapy. It teaches people to replace negative thoughts about problems in everyday life.
Dr. KAZDIN: Cognitive therapy, for depression, is one of the most widely studied treatments. It has evidence going back to the late '70s, and much more evidence in more recent years. It's a treatment of choice for psychotherapy for depression.
SHUTE: And there are dozens of other good therapies for mental health problems. Kazdin is part of a movement to make those treatments part of all psychotherapy. But that movement is having a hard time gaining traction, and Kazdin's really not happy about that.
Dr. KAZDIN: It would be like, you know, having grape juice to control your cancer when in fact, there's chemotherapy.
SHUTE: So if you or a family member need mental health therapy, it's time to become a savvy shopper. Kazdin explains how.
Dr. KAZDIN: You interview therapists. Or if you're incapable of doing that because of some crisis, you have a relative help you. And among the questions would be the obvious ones: What do you do when you see patients like me - or like my spouse or my sister; and what is the evidence for that treatment? And then, is there anything I could read about that? And then I would go home and look all this up.
SHUTE: There's also lots of information online about therapy that's been tested. And we've got a list for you, at npr.org, too.
But when you're suffering, it can be hard to shop. That's what happened to Janet Ohlsen. Three years ago, she was doing triathlons. Then, she started losing control.
Ms. JANET OHLSEN: So things spiraled down quickly and - ended up in the E.R. about three times for craziness, sort of manic symptoms running off into the woods and hiding and - you know, it's just insane.
SHUTE: She was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and eventually, bipolar disorder. She went to a psychiatrist for medication, but her doctor also recommended talk therapy.
Janet lives in a small town in upstate New York, where there aren't too many health-care choices. So she did another thing that people can do: She asked a friend, who is a clinical social worker, for advice.
Ms. OHLSEN: Fortunately, I met - or I have a very good friend, and she had recommended a therapist that she had worked with. It was perfect.
SHUTE: That therapist practices psychodynamic therapy, which has been shown to help with depression. As far as she's concerned, Ohlsen says that therapy has been a huge factor in her recovery.
Ms. OHLSEN: My psychologist is just wonderful, and she helps me for minimizing my actions and my tendencies to neglect my health and well-being, no matter what it might be.
SHUTE: There are still lots of therapists who haven't adopted proven therapies. Some fear that this push for science-based techniques will make it harder for them to connect with clients on a human level.
Scott Lilienfeld disagrees. He's a clinical psychologist at Emory University. He says good therapy has room for both science and a human touch.
Professor SCOTT LILIENFELD (Psychology, Emory University): Part of the role of a good psychotherapist is persuasion is getting people to understand why they should change.
SHUTE: Janet Ohlsen knows she's changed, and for the better. At age 54, she's training for triathlons again - and she's coaching other women, too.
Nancy Shute, NPR News.
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