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Leichsenring, F. (2005). Are psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapies effective?: A review of empirical data. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 86(3):841-868.

(2005). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 86(3):841-868

Are psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapies effective?: A review of empirical data

Falk Leichsenring

There is a need for empirical outcome research in psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapy. However, both the approach of empirically supported therapies (EST) and the procedures of evidence-based medicine (EBM) have severe limitations making randomised controlled trials (RCTs) an absolute standard. After a critical discussion of this approach, the author reviews the empirical evidence for the efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy in specific psychiatric disorders. The review aims to identify for which psychiatric disorders RCTs of specific models of psychodynamic psychotherapy are available and for which they are lacking, thus providing a basis for planning further research. In addition, results of process research of psychodynamic psychotherapy are presented. As the methodology of RCTs is not appropriate for psychoanalytic therapy, effectiveness studies of psychoanalytic therapy are reviewed as well. Studies of psychodynamic psychotherapy published between 1960 and 2004 were identified by a computerised search using Medline, PsycINFO and Current Contents. In addition, textbooks and journal articles were used. Twenty-two RCTs were identified of which 64% had not been included in the 1998 report by Chambless and Hollon. According to the results, for the following psychiatric disorders at least one RCT providing evidence for the efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy was identified: depressive disorders (4 RCTs), anxiety disorders (1 RCT), post-traumatic stress disorder (1 RCT), somatoform disorder (4 RCTs), bulimia nervosa (3 RCTs), anorexia nervosa (2 RCTs), borderline personality disorder (2 RCTs), Cluster C personality disorder (1 RCT), and substance-related disorders (4 RCTs). According to results of process research, outcome in psychodynamic psychotherapy is related to the competent delivery of therapeutic techniques and to the development of a therapeutic alliance. With regard to psychoanalytic therapy, controlled quasi-experimental effectiveness studies provide evidence that psychoanalytic therapy is (1) more effective than no treatment or treatment as usual, and (2) more effective than shorter forms of psychodynamic therapy. Conclusions are drawn for future research.

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