November 21, 2009

In Defense of Psychologists

Letter to the editor in response to a commentary in the Washington Post by Baker, et al. titled "Is your therapist a little behind the times?"

In their Nov. 15 Outlook commentary ["Is your therapist a little behind the times?"], Timothy Baker, Richard McFall and Varda Shoham stated that ensuring quality in psychology training programs is an important responsibility of the discipline. We agree. Consumers should be able to trust that their mental health provider has a strong grounding in science. It's what the authors failed to tell consumers of mental health services that does the biggest disservice.

The writers used the broad label "psychotherapists," as if all mental health professionals attain equal levels of training and credentials. They do not. Psychologists have earned doctoral degrees, and those delivering health services must be licensed by the state in which they practice. Most have career-long requirements for continuing education.

The commentary suggested that science training is the only foundation of effective delivery of mental health services. This opinion ignores strong evidence that successful mental health treatment rests on three elements: the best research, clinical expertise and the patient's values. In fact, these three elements comprise the definition of evidence-based practice put out by the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences.

Knowing the science is important. Being able to apply the science in ways that help real-world patients is critical. Our best advice to the public is to select licensed providers who have the training and experience to treat your specific area of concern and to work closely with that provider to understand the treatment plan, goals and timeline.

James Bray and Norman B. Anderson,

The writers are the president and chief executive, respectively, of the American Psychological Association.