Last month we concluded that psychological counseling does bring about some changes in the lives of some people, but at best those changes are only superficial changes of behavior because psychological counseling does not deal with sin, and it cannot change the hearts and natures of people. So, any successes are very limited. Even so, psychological counselors push all the more for their approaches to dealing with problems of people.
In his address to the American Psychological Association—honored for his distinguished contributions to research—Dr. Leonard Bickman said, “Psychologists seem confident that effective services are assured by (a) more experienced clinicians, (b) degree programs, (c) continuing education, (d) licensing, (e) accreditation, and (f) clinical supervision. After reviewing relevant scientific literature, the author concludes that these are myths with little or no evidence to support them.”1
It would seem that this idea is supported by the following research when Dr. Joseph Durlak looked at dozens of studies comparing the effectiveness of psychologically trained counselors to paraprofessionals. He concluded that “Professionals do not possess demonstrably superior therapeutic skills compared to paraprofessionals.”2
Similarly, distinguished researcher Dr. Robyn Dawes stated, “One’s effectiveness as a therapist was unrelated to any professional training,” and that “the credentials and experience of the psychotherapists are unrelated to patient outcomes.”3
Martin and Deidre Bobgan concluded that “Most any person, whether educated, degreed, or not can minister mutual care and be successful on average as degree-trained, certified, and licensed counselors.”4
If psychological training and experience are not the cause of the small success of psychological counseling, then what other things could be? It appears that the personal qualities of counselors—the placebo effect—and spontaneous remission are contributors.
Dr. E. Fuller Torrey states, “The research shows that certain personal qualities of the therapist—accurate empathy, non-possessive warmth, and genuineness—are of crucial importance in producing effective psychotherapy.”5
In his book, Persuasion of Healing, Jerome Frank agreed that “Anyone with a modicum of human warmth, common sense, some sensitivity to human problems, and a desire to help can benefit many candidates for psychotherapy.”6
Some researchers from Wesleyan University reviewed about five hundred outcome studies that compared the effectiveness of psychological counseling with placebos, and they concluded, “We are still not aware of a single convincing demonstration that benefits of psychotherapy exceed those of placebos for real patients.” 7
The Bobgans note, “The placebo effect takes place when one has faith in a pill, a person, a process, or procedure, and it is this faith that brings about the healing.”8
Spontaneous remission is due to such factors as change in circumstances (e.g. new job), a personal change (e.g. thinking different thoughts or deciding to change), or the help of nonprofessionals (e.g. friends or relatives).”9
For example, Bernie Zilbergeld in his book The Shrinking of America says, “Changes made by presumably sophisticated methods of therapy are usually modest and not much different from what people achieve on their own or with the help of friends.”10
In summary, the Bobgans said, “It cannot be said categorically that psychotherapy itself is or is not effective, or that there is a possibility of greater improvement with or without treatment.”11
As a result of hearings before the Subcommittee on Health of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Finance, Jay Constantine, Chief of the Health Professional Staff reported, “Based upon evaluations of the literature and testimony, it appears clear to us that there are virtually no controlled studies, conducted and evaluated in accordance with generally accepted scientific principles, which confirm the efficacy, safety, and appropriateness of psychotherapy as it is conducted today.”12
Therefore, all the training and experience of psychological counseling does not help make counselors more successful than those who are not professionally trained, but who just care about people and their problems. Who fits this better than a believer who is filled with the Spirit, and living an overcoming life?
Next month the question, “What is mental health?” will be explored.
1 Leonard Bickman, “Practice Makes Perfect and Other Myths About Mental Health Services,” American Psychologist, 963-978, no. 11.
2 Joseph Durlak, “Comparative Effectiveness Of Paraprofessional and Professional Helpers,” Psychological Bulletin 86, 80-92 (1979).
3 Robyn M. Dawes, House Of Cards : Psychology And Psychotherapy Built On Myth (New York: The Free Press/ MacMillian, Inc. 1994), 62.
4 Martin and Deidre Bobgan, Psychoheresy Revised. (Santa Barbara: Eastgate Publishers, 2012), 230.
5 E. Fuller Torrey, “The Case For The Indigenous Therapist,” Archives of General Psychiatry, no. 20 (March 1968): 367.
6 Jerome Frank, Persuasion of Healing (New York: Schocken Books, 1961), 167.
7 Leslie Prioleau, Martha Murdock, and Nathan Broody, “An Analysis Of Psychotherapy Versus Placebo Studies,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences (June 1983): 284.
8 Bobgans, op. cit., 210
9 Ibid., 218.
10 Bernie Zilbergeld, The Shrinking Of America (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1983), 221.
11 Bobgans, op. cit., 194.
12 Jay B. Constantine Letter, Printed in Blue Sheet, no. 22, (December 1979), 50.