Does Psychotherapy work?

The short answer is: yes. We know from scientific research that psychotherapy works. Years of careful scientific investigations have clearly demonstrated its effectiveness. Both qualitative and quantitative reviews of thousands of scientific studies have shown that about 75 to 80% of patients who enter psychotherapy benefit from it. This finding generalizes across a wide range of disorders and different therapy formats, including individual, couple, family, and group therapies (See references in the link section below.

The factors that make it work, however, are harder to explain. A review of the scientific research shows that the key factors for the success of psychotherapy are the relationship between therapist and client, and the customization of the treatment for the individual client. (Cuijpers, et al., 2008, Lambert, 2004; Karver, et al., 2006; Norcross, 2011; Shirk & Karver, 2003; Wampold, 2007 ).

The American Psychological Association (APA) created a task force to examine the factors that are causing the success of psychotherapy. (Norcross, 2011: Psychotherapy Relationships That Work: Evidence-Based Responsiveness (2nd edition.). Oxford University Press, USA). They examined the association between elements of the therapy relationship and treatment effectiveness through several meta-analyses. (A meta-analysis is a study of studies, a research method that aggregates the results of multiple studies on the same topic.) The effectiveness of therapy in these studies is measured by clients’ improved functioning, reduced suffering, physiological indicators, treatment retention, richer interactions with other people, work performance, and other indexes of recovery. The results of about  20+ meta-analyses converge into a series of research-supported conclusions with important consequences for psychotherapists and clients alike. Here are the findings they published:

Online or face-to-face?

I offer both modalities. Since the days of Covid, most therapy has migrated to video platforms, because it is so convenient, and it also works pretty well. Traditional in-person therapy involves face-to-face sessions, and fosters strong therapeutic alliances through direct interaction and non-verbal communication. It is highly effective due to the immediate feedback and structured environment it provides​.

Teletherapy, conducted via video conferencing, offers increased accessibility and flexibility, and is especially beneficial for those in remote areas or with mobility issues. Research indicates that video therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy, with high patient satisfaction and strong therapeutic alliances reported​.


Getting the most out of Therapy

Psychotherapy may not cure your condition or make an unpleasant situation go away. But it can give you the power to cope in a healthy way and feel better about yourself and your life. Here are a few tips to get the most out of the process:

1. Build a Strong Therapeutic Alliance

2. Set Clear Goals

3. Practice Skills Outside Sessions

4. Communicate Openly

5. Stay Committed

6. Be Patient and Persistent

What makes a good Therapist?

 We know that psychotherapy works across all modalities for about 75 to 80% of all clients. The therapeutic relationship itself is key to the success of the process. Therefore, the next question is: What makes a good therapist? A review of the existing research was summarized by Bruce Wampold into the following traits of a good psychotherapist:  

Scientific research demonstrates that psychotherapy with an effective therapist works even better in the long-term and its effects are more enduring than medication. Psychotherapy is not only more cost-effective, but  it leads to fewer relapses of anxiety or mild to moderate depression than medication use alone.

We live in a world saturated by advertisement. Pharmaceutical companies promise quick fixes, and taking a pill is faster than seeing a therapist once a week for an hour.  The evidence shows that pills don’t work as well as therapy, particularly for mild to moderate mental health conditions. Based on these findings, it is advisable that psychological interventions, not medications, should be applied first.


(Wampold, B. E., & Imel, Z. E. (2015). The great psychotherapy debate: The evidence for what makes psychotherapy work (2nd ed.). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.)

The legal and ethical Framework

Psychotherapy is governed by a complex framework of rules and regulations. As a medical procedure reimbursed by health insurance, it operates within a legal and bureaucratic structure. For psychotherapy to be effective, therapists must adhere to specific guidelines, such as limiting self-disclosure and avoiding dual relationships with clients.

The ethical foundations of psychotherapy are rooted in centuries-old healthcare principles, beginning with the ancient Greek Hippocratic Oath. This oath emphasizes respect for human life and treating the whole person, not just symptoms. The code of conduct for psychotherapists expands on these principles, recognizing that as a "talking cure," psychotherapy requires an ethics of speech.

In psychotherapy, ethical adherence is not merely an external requirement but an integral part of the therapeutic process. Ethical guidelines serve as the foundation for psychotherapeutic methods and techniques, directly influencing the treatment's success.

The practice of psychotherapy requires a seamless integration of scientific, therapeutic, legal, and ethical principles. These guidelines inform all aspects of treatment, from therapeutic choices to practical arrangements. The fundamental principle underlying psychotherapy is the recognition that the therapist-patient relationship itself serves as a vehicle for important feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. Consequently, this relationship must be carefully established and protected.

Key ethical considerations include:

Understanding and implementing these ethical guidelines is crucial for the therapeutic relationship to evolve and for the treatment to succeed. They provide a framework that protects both the client and the therapist, ensuring a safe and effective therapeutic environment.

The American Psychological Association's Code of Conduct for Psychologists serves as the most authoritative resource for ethical guidelines in the field. This comprehensive document outlines professional standards, helping therapists navigate complex ethical situations and maintain the highest level of care for their clients.

Useful Links

Research on Psychotherapy

Here are some valuable sources and summaries on the effectiveness of various psychotherapy methods, including psychodynamic and humanistic approaches:

These sources collectively highlight the efficacy of different psychotherapy methods, emphasizing the importance of therapist skills, therapeutic alliances, and adapting treatments to individual needs.