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Evidence-Based Practice in Mental Health

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

With the numerous mental health treatments available to therapists and psychologists, it is important for clients to know that they are receiving quality treatment that has been proven to work based on scientific evidence. Learn the ins and outs of evidence-based practice in mental health in this lesson.

What is Evidence-Based Practice?

When Ryan broke his arm, there was no question that he needed to visit the nearest emergency room to receive a cast. Yet when Ryan fell into a deep depression, he was overwhelmed with the various psychotherapy treatment techniques that were available to treat his depression. Did you know that depression can be treated with cognitive, behavioral, interpersonal, psychoanalysis, or experiential therapies? How could Ryan be sure that he was getting the most effective, efficient, and highest-quality treatment that was going to help treat his depression?

Best practice in the mental health field is using evidence-based treatment and therapies.
Counseling psychologist.

Evidence-based practice (EBP) is a collection of treatment and prevention methods that are based on evidence gathered from scientific studies, evaluations, and practice. In other words, it has enough scientific evidence to support it as being effective in producing desired outcomes for mental health therapy. If Ryan seeks out a therapist who practices EBP, he can be assured that they are utilizing therapies based on evidence obtained through research studies and/or treatments. After some research, Ryan chooses a therapist who used uses cognitive therapy for his depression, which has been proven time and time again to help individuals replace negative cognitions with positive ones.

EBP has been evaluated enough in real-life settings and scientific experiments for government agencies to give the 'thumbs up' to mental health practitioners who are searching for the best treatment methods for their clients on a regular basis. In fact, the American Psychiatric and American Psychological Associations consider evidence-based practice to be 'best' practice in mental health.

EBP is important because:

  • Clients in therapy have access to proven effective treatment.
  • Practitioners know which interventions are most effective.
  • Treatment methods and therapeutic orientations are constantly being reviewed, researched, and updated according to the latest evidence.

Psychologists, professors, and other mental health professionals are constantly conducting research studies to test the efficacy of treatment techniques.
Psychologist conducting research study.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, is an evidence-based practice used in mental health treatments. In CBT, a therapist studies a patient's negative thoughts or beliefs and relates them to that individual's emotions and behaviors. The purpose of CBT is to influence a patient's negative thoughts or beliefs, which in turn changes their behaviors and emotions for the better.

There are many research studies that support the effectiveness of CBT, which is why it is considered evidence-based. In addition, mental health practitioners gather evidence with each client about the effectiveness of their treatment. Evidence that CBT is successful could be seen by a decrease in negative behaviors or feelings monitored on a chart, log, or diary.

Using Practice That is Not Evidence-Based

You may be left thinking, why wouldn't every therapist, counselor, or psychologist use evidence-based practice if it has been proven to be the most effective? Believe it or not, some mental health practitioners utilize therapies that are not evidence-based. Instead, the therapies practiced may be based on their belief systems or traditions.

As an example, let's consider therapists who practice conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is an attempt to purge a person of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) tendencies. Parents who have an LGBT child may turn to a conversion therapist to rid them of their LGBT desires. However, conversion therapy is not backed by scientific research. It is not evidence-based practice and is actually frowned upon by most mental health professionals.

Resources for Evidence-Based Practice in Mental Health

Because government agencies and professional organizations encourage mental health practitioners to use evidence-based practice, there are many resources available to keep practitioners updated about the newest scientific research and findings in the field.

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