The Evidence for Therapy

Millions of Americans go to talk therapy. But does it work? It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer.

Talk therapy does produce great benefits for some people, but not for everyone, so it might not work for you, my colleague Susan Dominus wrote for The New York Times Magazine’s therapy issue, published this week.

Researchers were able to reach that conclusion only relatively recently. Since the days of Sigmund Freud, the field of psychotherapy has been resistant, even hostile, to evaluating its methods through empirical studies. “At my graduation from psychoanalytic training, a supervising analyst said to me, ‘Your analysis will cure you of the need to do research,’” Andrew Gerber, the president of a psychiatric treatment center in Connecticut, told The Times.

That resistance has waned in the past few decades, leading to hundreds of clinical trials. The results have been mixed. Some studies have found that therapy has a higher chance of helping than not. Other research has shown more limited results, suggesting that therapy helps some patients but not many or even most.

Why? It likely comes down to individual preferences. A therapist or type of therapy that works for one person might not align with someone else’s personality or problems. So a study looking at whether one kind of therapy works will likely produce limited results, no matter how effective that therapy is for certain individuals.

And for some, talk therapy might never be the right match over other kinds of help, like medication.

Some experts have drawn a disappointing conclusion. “Maybe we have reached the limit of what you can do by talking to somebody,” David Tolin, the director of another treatment center in Connecticut, said. “Maybe it’s only going to get so good.” Others are now trying to harness the evidence to improve talk therapy and to find ways to connect patients to the type of therapy that would work best for them.

Speaking to the researcher Timothy Anderson, Susan voiced her own frustrations about the murky evidence:

I had perhaps — as a longtime consumer of therapy in search of reassurance — hit my limit with the disputes among the various clinicians and researchers, the caveats and the debates over methodology. “The research seems very … baggy,” I said, not bothering to hide my frustration. “It’s not very satisfying.” I could practically hear a smile on the other end of the phone. “Well, thank you,” Anderson said. “That’s what makes this research so interesting. That there are no simple answers, right?”

Read Susan’s cover story here for more details on the evidence for different kinds of therapy and how therapists are trying to improve.

More from the magazine

Racial and sexual power dynamics are changing intimate relationships, one couples therapist writes.

How do you help a suicidal teenager? Some things do work.

Somatic therapy is surging. It focuses on finding healing through the physical rather than the mental.

Read what therapists really think about their patients.

Here’s the full issue.


G7 Summit

Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia had destroyed Bakhmut, but he denied Moscow’s claim to have captured the city.

President Biden promised continuing Western support for Ukraine after announcing more military aid.

The U.S. is negotiating agreements for the minerals needed to produce electric cars, an industry dominated by China.

“De-risking”: A new word has taken over the summit as diplomats describe China’s grip on global supply chains.


Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy are expected to speak today about the debt limit. The threat of a default could further destabilize financial markets.

Despite health issues, Senator Dianne Feinstein is struggling to let go of a job she views as her identity.

As he travels the country, Ron DeSantis is reluctant to talk about the restrictive abortion ban he signed.


Thousands of Afghans have tried to enter the U.S. by boat and by foot, desperate to join a nation that they feel left them behind.

A stampede at a soccer stadium in El Salvador killed at least 12 people.

Other Big Stories

Climate change is wrecking rice harvests, threatening the food and livelihood of billions of people.

National Treasure won the Preakness Stakes as his trainer, Bob Baffert, returned from a suspension after a horse’s failed drug test.

The bodies of two missing boys were recovered from New York City rivers.


To create community, we need to have obligations to one another, Brad Stulberg writes.

“I have struggled, since writing a eulogy for my 14-year-old, to use the past tense.” Sarah Wildman reflects on losing her daughter to cancer.

Gaps in criminal background check databases have fatal consequences. Closing them is crucial to curbing gun violence, Gordon Witkin writes.

Here are columns by Maureen Dowd on orgasms and classical music and Ross Douthat on the Hollywood writers’ strike.

The Sunday question: Should Senator Dianne Feinstein step down?

Feinstein’s greatest act of public service now would be to give up her powerful position, Erwin Chemerinsky writes for The Sacramento Bee. But the campaign against her stems from progressive ambitions to take over her seat without an election, The Orange County Register’s Thomas Elias writes.


Leaving paradise: Hawaiians are moving to Las Vegas for more affordable housing.

Baring it all: Think performing stand-up comedy is scary? Try doing it naked.

Birding holy grail: Does this video show that the ivory-billed woodpecker still exists?

Set sail: Jeff Bezos’ new boat is the world’s largest sailing yacht.

Heroes’ welcome: Fate brought them together during a blizzard in Buffalo. They reunited in Seoul.

A morning listen: Is Dorothy Day worthy of sainthood?

Vows: Eighty-six episodes of “The Office” were a sign that she was the one.

Lives lived: Martin Amis wrote caustic, bleakly comic novels that redefined British fiction in the 1980s and ’90s. He died at 73.


Beach day: Bring this gear on your trip.

Working from home: Move your office outside.

Juice cleanse: A detox may make you feel good, but the science is mixed.

From Wirecutter: Find the best tie-dye kit to use this summer.

Travel: Lin-Manuel Miranda offers five tips for visiting San Juan, P.R., where he spent summers as a child.


Stolen ideas: In “Yellowface,” R.F. Kuang’s satirical thriller, an aspiring writer takes credit for a book her dead friend had written.

By the Book: The Pulitzer Prize winner Hernan Diaz begins his writing by reading.

Our editors’ picks: “The Covenant of Water,” which follows generations of a family in southwestern India, and eight other books.

Times best sellers: “A Day With No Words,” written by Tiffany Hammond and illustrated by Kate Cosgrove, is at the top of the children’s picture book list.


What to Watch For

Greece holds elections today.

Two Republicans are expected to enter the presidential race this week: DeSantis and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.

A man who was photographed putting his boots on a desk in Nancy Pelosi’s office during the Jan. 6 attacks will be sentenced on Wednesday.

A House subcommittee will hold a hearing on bank and regulatory failures on Wednesday.

Biden will deliver the commencement address at his alma mater, the University of Delaware, on Saturday.

What to Cook This Week

Want seafood, but don’t have time to get it fresh from the market? Emily Weinstein’s Five Weeknight Meals newsletter has the recipe: This roasted shrimp cocktail uses frozen shrimp and goes well with creamy horseradish sauce or classic cocktail sauce. Other dinner ideas for the week include edamame pesto pasta, with a new nut-free pesto recipe, and sheet-pan roast chicken with kale and olives.


The pangram from yesterday’s Spelling Bee was haircut. Here is today’s puzzle.

Take the news quiz to see how well you followed the week’s headlines.

And here are today’s Mini Crossword, Wordle and Sudoku.

Thanks for spending part of your weekend with The Times. — German

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