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Does Therapy Help?

It can! Seeking help is a sign of good mental health and suggests a willingness to assume responsibility for one’s behavior and a greater capacity to live a mature, dependable, and reliable life.

People who participate in some type of psychotherapy or counseling seem to do better than 75% of people who do not seek treatment.  The good news is not only does going to therapy help, but it doesn’t really matter what type of therapy that you go to –just that you go.

Here are the stats:  Therapy is often more helpful than no treatment or than placebos.  A pioneering review examined 375 controlled studies covering a total of almost 25,000 people seen in a wide assortment of therapies (Smith, Glass, & Miller, 1980; Smith & Glass, 1977).  A meta-analysis of these reviews found that therapy was effective! 

The researchers rated the level of improvement in each person treated and in each untreated control subject and measured the average difference between the two groups.  According to the statistical analysis, the average person who received treatment was better off than 75 percent of the untreated control subjects.

Having said this, it begs the question whether therapy can be harmful.  Some research studies suggest that approximately 5 percent of persons in psychotherapy actually get worse.  These individuals developed more intense symptoms or new ones, such as a sense of failure, guilt, reduced self-concept, or even hopelessness due to their belief that they cannot benefit from therapy.



Hadley, S. Wl, & Strupp, H. H. (1976). Contemporary view of negative effects in psychotherapy: An integrated account. Archives of General Psychiatry, 33(1), 1291-1302.

Lambert, M. J., Shapiro, D.A., & Bergin, A.E. (1986). The effectiveness of psychotherapy.  In S. L. Garfield & A. E. Bergin (Eds.), Handbook of psychotherapy and behavioral change (3rd ed.), New York: Wiley.

Smith, M. L., & Glass, G. V. (1977). Meta-analysis of psychotherapy outcome studies.  American Psychologist, 32(9), 752-760.

Smith, M. L., & Glass, G. V., & Miller, T. I. (1980). The benefits of psychotherapy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.