Although psychotherapists often debate whether effective therapy is more about fostering a good relationship or more about the science behind the techniques, there is little research asking clients what they want to get out of their therapy, and whether this varies according to the problem they are seeking help for. Researchers Nicholas R. Farrell and Brett J. Deacon (2015) addressed this issue by presenting a sample of community members –and therapists— with patient vignettes. Community members in their study were asked to imagine that the vignettes represented themselves seeking help for a problem, either life problems or an anxiety disorder. They were asked to rate how important it would be to them to have a good positive working relationship, as well as how important it would be to have a treatment that is based on a scientifically-supported rationale for why it helps the problem they are experiencing. When it came to dealing with life problems, community members rated that it was more important to have a good relationship with their therapist than to have scientifically credible therapy. When it came to getting treatment for an anxiety disorder, however, community member valued the relational and scientific aspects of therapy equally. Therapists, however, undervalued the scientific importance of therapy for patients. The study authors highlighted that “[a]lthough clients are likely to prize a strong working relationship with an empathic therapist for psychotherapy in general, they are also likely to value the importance of scientific credibility to a degree greater than therapists may expect.” Farrell and Deacon encouraged practicing psychologists to monitor patient preferences not just for an empathetic therapist but also for an evidence-based practice, noting that these two preferences are not in competition because clients prefer both, not one at the expense of another.
Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR)
Marna S. Barrett, Ph.D.
Mood & Anxiety Disorders Treatment Research Unit
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine
3535 Market St., Suite 670
Philadelphia, PA 19104