Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

Making Psychologists Effective

Edited by Jill Wright,

One of the reasons Psychology Melbourne achieves outstanding results with our clients is the additional steps we take to establish and maintain a strong and effective therapeutic relationship - things like individual matching sessions - and the effort we invest in measuring and tracking the progress of the people we work with.

The value of these disciplines was brought home to me yet again this morning, when I read a post on the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog, under the heading The mistakes that lead therapists to infer psychotherapy was effective when it wasn't.

The conclusion the author makes is an obvious one - therapists, and for that matter their clients, aren't particularly good at judging the effectiveness of treatment, largely because they frequently fall victim to the observational biases that we all have.

A study led by Professor Scott Lilienfeld, at Georgia's Emory University, categorises four main types of bias: 

  • Naive realism (the mistaken belief that we see the world precisely as it is)
  • Confirmation bias (our tendency to preference evidence that backs our initial beliefs)
  • Illusory control (of course we're in charge around here)
  • Illusory correlations (assuming the factors we're focusing on are causally responsible for observed changes)

Lilienfeld's study identifies no less than 26 "causes of spurious therapeutic effectiveness", or CSTEs. 

The researchers argue that there is a "pressing need to inculcate humility in clinicians, researchers and students" and to recognise that as we are all prone to making the wrong assumptions, we need to be more sceptical of too-confident proclamations of treatment "break-throughs".

At Psychology Melbourne, we rigorously guard against this sort of professional wish fulfilment with a series of measures that determine whether real progress is being made by our clients and whether there might be any issues that need to be addressed.

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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.