Point of View: Research or Reality? The Flawed Science of Psychotherapy

This interview with Dr. Jonathan Shedler, published on the Psychotherapy Networker website, is conducted by Ryan Howes. It begins:

“Get into grad school. Choose an approach. Make sure it’s evidence based. Build your practice.

This formula has been the standard for aspiring therapists for decades, and no one saw any reason to challenge it.

Not so fast, says Jonathan Shedler, a psychoanalytic psychologist, re­searcher, and former professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He argues that the various therapeutic schools are brands and labels that distract us from developing our most important tool in therapy—the person of the therapist. Furthermore, the research for evidence-based therapies is misguided and conducted by the wrong professionals.

“The Efficacy of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy,” Shedler’s landmark article in American Psychologist, had the dual impact of establishing psychodynamic therapy as an evidence-based therapy and calling into question the validity of psychotherapy research. His ideas are revolutionary and at times controversial.

– – – –

Ryan Howes: What brought you into this field?

Johnathan Shedler: As an undergrad, I didn’t understand the difference between psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts. I went to the psychology department thinking I was going to learn about our inner world, which is the subject matter of psychoanalysis. Instead, I found myself in a hardcore research department. Then I went to grad school at the University of Michigan, which at the time was like being in an analytic institute. We were all in psychoanalysis four or five days a week, and studying it the rest of the time. But throughout, I kept my feet firmly in two distinct worlds: psychoanalysis and research psychology.

Now, these worlds are alien to each other. Straddling them throughout my career has had consequences—some positive, and a lot negative. In a way, I was seen as not really legitimate in either world. Even though I’ve been a practicing psychoanalytic therapist my entire career, psychoanalysts would classify me as a researcher, which is to say not really one of them. And in the research world, psychoanalysis is, well —

RH: It’s a fossil.

Shedler: Yeah, it’s seen as this relic of a time gone by that’s sort of joked about and ridiculed. So even though I’m a widely cited researcher by anyone’s standards, with publications in the highest-impact research journals, the fact that I’m known as psychoanalytic makes academic researchers view me as an outsider …”

You can read more from here.

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