SciAm science writer John Horgan writes:
Over the past half century, researchers have churned out countless findings about the brain, mind and mental illness. And psychologists and psychiatrists have introduced many supposedly new and improved treatments for mental distress, notably cognitive-behavioral therapy and antidepressants such as SSRIs. But research suggests that these ostensibly scientific treatments still gain most of their effectiveness from the placebo effect.So quack stuff like Freudianism and astrology is not any crazier than the mainstream methods.
In a massive 2002 study of psychotherapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, a teal led by psychologist Lester Luborsky found that all are roughly as effective as each other. Studies favoring one particular therapy, Luborsky asserted, tend to show an “allegiance effect,” a prior bias of researchers toward that therapy.
Other analyses suggest that medications for mental illness, although they benefit some people in the short term, might end up hurting more people than they help. Thomas Insel, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said recently, “I don’t think we moved the needle in reducing suicide, reducing hospitalizations, improving recovery for the tens of millions of people who have mental illness.”
Research into the brain and mind, I have argued on this blog and elsewhere, has yet to produce truly persuasive theories of and treatments for mental illness. As a recent essay in a British psychiatric journal argues, “it is still not possible to cite a single neuroscience or genetic finding that has been of use to the practicing psychiatrist in managing [mental] illnesses despite attempts to suggest the contrary.”
This failure helps explains why people still turn to Freudian psychoanalysis, although it does not stand up to scientific scrutiny, and to an even older mind-therapy, Buddhism. And it explains why many people in distress turn to astrology, tarot cards and other pseudoscientific methods. May they find the solace they seek.
For an example of a widely acclaimed psychotherapy that is worthless, see this
review of John Gottman Marital Counseling.
In the past several years, California and other states have partial banned psychotherapies to avoid homosexuality, on the grounds that testimony said that they were not effective. But if you read the testimony carefully, it never really claims that any other psychotherapy is more effective.
We also have laws saying physical and mental ailments have to be funded the same, in some ways. But we have hundreds of effective treatments for physical ailments, and none for mental ailments.