The paper, published Thursday, was led by UVic’s social psychologist John Sakaluk (pictured) and University of Kansas clinical psychologist Alexander Williams and questions the ‘gold standard’ of treatments. (Provided by UVic)

UVic researcher questions effectiveness of ‘gold standard’ psychotherapies

Paper published Aug. 1 looked at treatments for conditions such as depression, insomnia and PTSD

A new paper out of the University of Victoria is calling into question some of the statistics that support psychotherapies that treat a wide range of conditions such as depression, insomnia, PTSD and borderline personality disorder.

The paper, published Aug. 1, was led by UVic’s social psychologist John Sakaluk and University of Kansas clinical psychologist Alexander Williams and questions the ‘gold standard’ of treatments.

A master list of 78 empirically supported treatments (ESTs) — maintained by the American Psychological Association’s Division 12, the arm of the association that develops guidelines — shows that all 78 ESTs have been clinically tested and are used by psychologists in Canada and the U.S. based on empirical measures of scientific success which inform everything from clinical training to research funding.

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According to Sakaluk, more than half of the ESTs fared poorly across their metrics.

“Increasing peer-reviewer attention to the metrics we evaluated would therefore complement the ongoing efforts of Division 12 to increase the quality of EST research and evaluation,” he stated in a press release.

Concerns are growing that many research findings in psychology cannot be replicated by independent research teams using the same or similar scientific procedures, which Sakaluk and Williams have dubbed the ‘replication crisis.’ They say there’s a need to re-evaluate existing systems that rely on the empirical measures examined in their study.

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Over the last year, Sakaluk, Williams and their coauthors conducted a meta-scientific review of approximately 450 articles and re-analyzed more than 3,000 tests of the effectiveness of all 78 ESTs.

In the first study of its kind to encompass such a large sample, the researchers found that many of the earlier studies claiming the efficacy of ESTs contained ‘statistical typos,’ imprecise research designs and weak evidence that the therapies worked.

The paper, “Evaluating the evidential value of empirically supported psychological treatments (ESTs),” was published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

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