Is Talk Therapy Effective for Depression?

This article has stirred up a lot of media interest, likely because it appeared in the august New York Times instead of a smaller venue. Its thrust is that a great number of studies measuring the effectiveness of talk therapy for depression never get published, leading publications to a biased sample that inflects toward successful outcomes. It’s not clear from the article whether the balance of studies were sufficiently negative to impact the “correct” success rate for talk therapy in depression, or even why many of the studies’ authors chose not to pursue publication. For instance, it is possible that poor design and execution left some of the unpublished papers lacking.

What cannot be denied is that this particular proportion of publication is hardly unique to this area of psychology:

Disappointing as those responses may be, they’re part of a larger systemic problem within many fields of science — a so-called “publication bias” where researchers feel compelled, often inadvertently, to only publish flashy, positive studies and shelve away less impressive findings. It’s a bias that can have some serious repercussions in the scientific world. "It's like flipping a bunch of coins and only keeping the ones that come up heads," Hollon said.

Until we can analyze everything that’s missing, it makes sense to bemoan the lack of completist tendencies in scientific circles. But to declare talk therapy ineffective for depression seems a bridge too far, as numerous other publications and individuals have found.

If you’d like to speak with a depression therapy expert in New York today, please contact PPSC.