Philosophistry Wiki

The challenge in meta-analyzing psychological treatments is that there is a lack of what's called "homogeneity" in both treatments and conditions. Treatments could include ones as methodical as cognitive therapy; it could include ones as unstructured as conversations with a counselor; or, it could include in-between treatments, such as classic Freudian psychoanalysis, which involves exploring the meaning behind dreams or negative thoughts.

The consensus in the scientific community is that "cognitive therapy works."

There isn't consensus among ordinary people that "talk therapy works."


Google defines psychotherapy as "the treatment of mental disorder by psychological, rather than medical means." But per this Psychology Today article, psychotherapy is referred to as "an umbrella term for any professional who is trained to treat people for their emotional problems." Presumably this could involve medication.

Diagnostic types

This meta-analysis focused on these six diagnostic categories:

Studiable treatment types

Cujipers's meta-analysis (see citation below), looked at 91 studies in the past three decades that randomly assigned patients to two or more treatment options for mild to moderate adult depression. Of the 91, the following treatment options appeared n times, which provides some signal as to what "works."


From Google

Top results (as of 2 Nov 2018) when you Google "meta-analysis psychotherapy":

Other Meta-analyses:

Meta-reviews (review of meta-analyses)

Meta-analyses can disagree

Among interventions for treating trauma in children and adolescents, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing was awarded the top rating (well supported) by the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare but the lowest rating (no support) by the Hawaii Blue Menu of Evidence-Based Child and Adolescent Psychosocial Interventions (Hennessy 2013)


Cochrane is the gold standard for meta-analysis, and therefore the closest thing we have to truth in understanding evidence-based outcomes.

Systematic reviews

Sharea Ijaz (May 2018): Are psychological therapies effective in treating depression that did not get better with previous treatment?

Comments and criticisms

Pablo Luis Lopez (Sep 2018): Overcoming the difficulties of meta-analysis in psychotherapy - Lopez reviewed Cochrane's library and noticed that its yearly publication of systematic reviews (SR) and meta-analyses (MA) has slightly declined whereas PubMed's SRs and MAs has gone up significantly. He wasn't exactly making a criticism per se, but rather making a call for consensus for solving heterogeneity issues with psychotherapy studies.

Sharon Green-Hennessy (Jan 2013): Cochrane Systematic Reviews for the Mental Health Field: Is the Gold Standard Tarnished?

Cochrane's future

The Cochrane Collaboration is a consortium of Cochrane centres scattered across different institutions. On 17 Sep 2018, Peter Gøtzsche, the director of Cochrane's Nordic centre was expelled from the Cochrane Collaboration's governing board due to his protestations about Cochrane cozying up to Industry. Four elected members resigned along with Gøtzsche, thus triggering Cochrane's charter rules and leading to the resignation of two appointed members. In other words, Gøtzsche's expulsion led to the board shrinking from thirteen to six members.

Gøtzsche was expelled after posting "A moral governance crisis: the growing lack of democratic collaboration and scientific pluralism in Cochrane" on Cochrane's website. Cochrane has since pulled the letter down.

Conspiracy theory

When you Google "Cochrane review cognitive therapy" (as of 2 Nov 2018), the first result is Cognitive behavioural therapies versus treatment as usual for depression. However, on 22 Oct 2018, the review was updated to say that it had been withdrawn. The apparent reason is they are consolidating and updating their review for cognitive therapy.