Red Arm Chair In Middle of the Road - Does Therapy Work? Yes It Does, And Here's The Evidence - Sandra Harewood Counselling

Does Therapy Work? Yes It Does, And Here’s The Evidence


Does therapy work?  Absolutely. Yes, it does!

But you would expect me to say that, wouldn’t you!  What therapist would say otherwise?

Counselling Changes Lives

The British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP) strapline is ‘counselling changes lives‘.  But how do they know?  Significantly, there are numerous studies which provide compelling evidence for the value of counselling and psychotherapy.

For example, The British Medical Journal reported that antidepressants are no more effective than counselling in tackling depression. Researchers examined 11 trials which compared modern antidepressants such as Prozac with psychological approaches, usually involving cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Does Therapy Work? The NHS Says Yes

Here in the U.K., the National Health Service (NHS) promotes CBT and counselling because they know it works.  In 2017 1.4 million people were referred for talking therapy by NHS England alone.  Here the planned spend on mental health in 2018/19 is £12.2 billion.

But it’s not just in the U.K. where the research supports the efficacy of counselling and psychotherapy.  Johnathan Shedler’s paper on psychodynamic psychotherapy pulls together several studies and presents notable results.  He analysed multiple studies from around the world by clustering them into a single, more extensive piece of research.

Perhaps his most interesting finding concluded that positive change and patient growth continue to develop beyond therapy ending, as measured in follow-up assessments conducted as long as three years post-treatment.

This finding suggests that psychodynamic psychotherapy provides patients with the tools to continue to function better in the world, feel better about themselves, reduce symptoms mental illness and face life’s challenges with greater flexibility and confidence well beyond the end of their sessions.

The Difficulty With Measurements

On the negative side, not all research raves about therapy, and it’s benefits. An article in the Conversation suggests that counselling only works at best in the short term directly contradicting Shedler’s work.

But many people, understandably are looking for quick fixes to their depression, anxiety and relationship problems.  Although this may be true, therapy is slow, patient work, rather like the archaeologist gently brushing away at the buried treasure.

So, most people are familiar with CBT and short term therapeutic models.   But there are over 60 types of counselling and psychotherapy.  Surely more than one or two of them work?

Psychotherapy With Soul

My training is Integrative Psychosynthesis. It’s an approach which has a psychodynamic root and was founded by Roberto Assagioli,  a colleague of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

Psychosynthesis includes a wide range of theories and techniques for working with early childhood wounding, problems in the here and now, and exploring the potential inherent within.

But at its heart, Psychosynthesis is psychology with soul; and how do you measure or establish an evidence base for that?

A Healing Relationship

Ultimately all counselling and psychotherapy are about the relationship.

This isn’t to say that a therapist shouldn’t be accountable, well trained, ethical and professional, of course, they should and:

In her groundbreaking work Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman MD says:

The core experiences of psychological trauma are disempowerment and disconnection from others. Recovery, therefore, is based upon the empowerment of the survivor and the creation of new connections. Healing can only take place within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation.

Therapy works when there is a good therapeutic relationship.  And that’s not just about trauma therapy.  Numerous studies say the same thing.

A client in Herman’s book said:

Good therapists were those who validated my experience.

It’s the therapeutic relationship that makes therapy work.  That’s not to say that your therapist is your best friend, because that’s not why a therapist is there.  The good therapist remains neutral and does not take sides in your inner conflicts or try to direct your life decisions.

This is all that much more difficult to measure.

The Difficulty With Data. Sometimes

I love Brene Brown’s work. It’s is all about her years of research and gathering of data on shame, vulnerability, courage and empathy.  She intertwines her data with storytelling. Lab-based efficacy studies alone don’t give the whole story about therapy.

Integrative psychosynthesis doesn’t lend itself well to an evidence-based approach. At the same time, my work does include well-researched theories and models including attachment theory, psychodynamic, self-psychology, subpersonalities, Gestalt, somatic psychotherapy and mindfulness.

But I also work with images, imagination, visualisation, stories, myths, music, poetry and dreams. This creativity is the soul at work.

There is something other than science about therapy working.

Does Therapy Work?

So when the soul is at work, does therapy work?  Yes. Absolutely.

And as I said before, therapy is slow, patient work.  And with soul and patience comes mystery.  Sometimes it hard to evidence the outcome; because what is a good outcome?

How do you evidence if therapy has worked when:

  • Someone leaves an abusive marriage, but perhaps years after having ending therapy.
  • A couple ends the couple counselling and decides to separate ending their relationship.
  • For the first time, someone truly feels seen and heard by another, i.e. the therapist. How does that affects the quality of relationships they have?
  • You feel worse, but you can feel a full range of emotions like sadness and anger.
  • Being a parent becomings less challenging because the parent connects with their Inner Child.
  • Your circumstances are the same, and maybe your behaviour is the same, but you understand yourself, your feelings and your reactions better.
  • You can set better boundaries, trust yourself and your decisions without reassurance-seeking, validate yourself and others or prioritise your needs and demands in a more balanced way.

A Personal Note

Whether therapy works is not always evident and tangible.

As a therapist, I believe that therapy is like proper nutrition, good hygiene and exercise.  And I continue to have therapy regularly; I think it’s essential.   Professionally, I continue to have therapy because I believe it is vital.

Therapy does work.  Give it a go!

Over to You

If you want a safe space to understand, talk and figure out your feelings, get in touch and book your first counselling appointment.

Or call me today on 07535 864836.

Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you.


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© Sandra Harewood 2019

About Sandra

Soul Centred couples counsellor Sandra Harewood specialises in working with couples and women with childhood wounding that impacts their adult relationships. Sandra provides a soulful space for her clients to explore and discover creative solutions to their difficulties and create a great relationship.