‘CBT is a scam and a waste of money’: Popular talking therapy is not a long-term solution, says leading psychologist
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the most popular talking therapy
- Oliver James argues research shows it does not have a lasting benefit
- After 5 to 20 sessions those with anxiety or depression appear to recover
- 2 years later they are no different to those who had no treatment, he said
- Says proponents have mis-sold CBT to the Government and policymakers
- He is calling on the Government to fund other types of treatment
- Psychodynamic therapy focuses on root cause of problems, he said
People with mental health problems are victims of a ‘scam’ therapy that is wasting vast sums of money, a leading psychologist has warned.
They are being misled because the short-term fix offered by Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) does not have a lasting benefit, says Oliver James.
The most popular of the ‘talking therapies’ CBT aims to help people manage their problems by changing the way they think and behave to become more positive.
It is frequently recommended for people with problems ranging from anxiety and depression to eating disorders.
In the short-term, 40 per cent of those who complete a course of CBT, typically five to 20 sessions of up to an hour, are said to have recovered.
But ‘extensive evidence’ shows that two years on, depressed or anxious people who had CBT were no more likely to have recovered than those who had no treatment, said Mr James.
He said: ‘As a treatment, rafts of studies have shown it to be ineffective in delivering long-term therapeutic benefits to patients with anxiety and depression.
‘While studies show that in the short-term – six to 12 months – patients who have received CBT are more likely to report themselves as ‘recovered’ compared to those who have received no treatment, these results are not sustained in the long-term.
‘CBT is largely ineffective for the majority of patients. It is in essence a form of mental hygiene.
‘However filthy the kitchen floor of your mind, CBT soon covers it with a thin veneer of ‘positive polish’.
‘Unfortunately, shiny services tend not to last. CBT fails to address the root cause of many people’s problems, which often stem from traumatic experiences during their childhood.
The UK Government has pledged up to £400 million on treatment programmes which mostly use CBT and it is recommended as frontline NHS treatment for many mental health issues.
Mr James, a chartered psychologist, author and broadcaster, delivered his argument to the CBT industry at the Limbus Critical Psychotherapy Conference in Devon this weekend.
WHAT IS CBT?
- CBT, or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, is a talking therapy.
- It has been proved to help treat a wide range of emotional and physical health conditions in adults, young people and children.
- CBT looks at how a person thinks about a situation and how this affects the way they act.
- In turn actions can affect how a person thinks and feels.
- The therapist and client work together in changing the client’s behaviours, or their thinking patterns, or both of these.
He and other psychotherapists are calling on the Government and policymakers to refocus funding into alternative talking treatments, such as psychodynamic therapy, which focus on addressing the root cause of people’s cognitive problems.
The NHS has been advised that CBT may be offered to patients with a range of conditions by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), the guideline body.
It is free on the NHS after referral by a GP but not available in all areas and there can be long waiting lists.
The cost of private therapy sessions varies, but it is usually £40 – £100 a session.
Many mental health groups welcome the shift in emphasis in recent years away from medication towards personalised therapy.
But Mr James says research shows CBT is no more effective than placebo in treating anxiety or depression
He says proponents have ‘mis-sold’ the treatment to policymakers and the public, who are wasting their time.
‘CBT appeals to politicians and NICE because it is quick and cheap.
‘The therapies proven to work long-term, such as psychodynamic therapy, would not be so cheap because they require more sessions’ he said.
But, he added: ‘Working as a psychotherapist, I rarely encounter patients who haven’t been subjected to CBT, which failed to help them.’
The British Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapies was unavailable for comment.