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What Is Evidence-Based Therapy?

What Is Evidence-Based Therapy?

Evidence-based therapy is the gold standard in mental health care, yet most providers still rely on approaches that may be ineffective, and even harmful. In the workplace, this means that many companies are paying for mental health benefits that don’t achieve the desired goals, and employees continue to suffer.

Investing in a comprehensive mental health benefit can result in lower turnover, more engagement, higher profitability, and lower absenteeism, but how can employers know if it’s actually working? Here’s a look at one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a mental health solution: evidence-based practice.

What is evidence-based practice in mental health?

Evidence-based practice applies research-based treatments that are tailored to meet people’s needs, preferences, and cultural expectations. Evidence-based treatments have been rigorously tested in randomized, controlled trials or a series of case studies, and have been proven to have effective outcomes.

With evidence-based care, the mental health provider considers three criteria to decide what therapeutic techniques to use:

  1. What the research literature says is helpful for this problem
  2. The clinician’s own training and judgment
  3. The values, culture, and preferences of the person needing help

These three factors comprise what is called the “three-legged stool” of evidence-based mental health care. If one of the “legs” is missing, the client doesn’t get the best outcome.

Some examples of evidence-based treatments include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This approach is considered the gold standard in mental health, based on the number of studies that show its effectiveness for a wide range of conditions. CBT helps people change inaccurate or negative thinking and unlearn self-defeating behaviors so they can respond to difficult situations more effectively.
  • Interpersonal Therapy: A time-limited, focused approach to treat mood disorders, this therapy’s main goal is to improve the quality of a client’s interpersonal relationships and social functioning to help reduce their distress. A meta-analysis in the American Journal of Psychiatry calls this therapy one of the most empirically validated treatments for depression, both in combination with pharmacotherapy and as an independent treatment.
  • Behavioral Activation: An approach that focuses on promoting behaviors to activate engagement in meaningful and pleasurable experiences, which may be particularly effective among young people, according to research in BMC Psychology. 
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): This is a modified type of cognitive behavioral therapy that incorporates mindfulness and distress tolerance skills. DBT can improve resilience, stress management, and relationships with others. Although it was originally designed to treat borderline personality disorder—and is still very effective for that purpose—the therapy has been adapted to help manage many other mental health conditions.

Through randomized, controlled trials and analyses of multiple combined studies, these treatments have been shown to repeatedly yield similar results, much like trials for any type of medication, surgery, or medical device.

The benefits of evidence-based therapy

When searching for mental health benefits, many companies focus on access: Can employees get care quickly at an affordable price? Access is important, but so are outcomes—or knowing the care they receive is actually improving their symptoms. Some of the main goals of evidence-based practice are increasing the quality of treatment and accountability for positive results.

Here are a few benefits of evidence-based practice counseling:

1. Evidence-based care is safe and ethical.

Rather than relying solely on personal opinion, evidence-based practice therapy gives mental health providers a framework for care based on research. This reduces the chances that bias or subjective experience will over-influence treatment. Evidence-based practice in mental health blends the best of both worlds, merging clinical data with professional judgment and experience.

2. People feel better faster with evidence-based psychotherapy.

A core tenet of evidence-based practice is measuring results. Research shows evidence-based therapies are effective at reducing symptoms and improving quality of life, with results that can be maintained long term. Many evidence-based treatments are time-limited, promoting symptom relief in about 12 sessions.

3. Evidence-based counseling is cost-effective.

Because they are time-limited and proven effective, evidence-based therapies can be less costly than other treatments. Research has shown that psychotherapy can pay for itself in terms of medical-cost offset, increased productivity, and life satisfaction.

4. Evidence-based therapy can be used to treat a wide range of mental health disorders in a variety of settings.

There are evidence-based treatments for most types of mental health disorders, including substance use, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and others. People of all ages can receive this type of care in counseling centers, hospitals, clinics, schools, rehabilitation centers, and a variety of other settings.

5. With evidence-based practice counseling, care is tailored to each client.

Evidence-based therapies are flexible, giving providers the ability to individualize treatment to each client’s needs, values, goals, and preferences. As a collaborative process, clients have a voice in their care. This type of person-centered, goal-oriented care is empowering for both providers and clients.

Finding evidence-based treatment for mental health

Anyone who sees a doctor for a physical health condition expects a proven treatment and an estimated timeline for relief from symptoms. For mental health, there hasn’t been the same basic expectation. That’s led to a breadth of treatment options, and not all of them have been tested for efficacy and expected outcome.

While many mental health benefits claim to provide evidence-based treatments (EBTs), that may not always be the case. There are many mental health therapies available, but only 20 percent are proven to work, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). In addition, some providers may have been trained in evidence-based treatments but don’t always practice them as intended. This is known as therapeutic drift, and it’s relatively common in mental health care.

When evaluating a mental health benefit, it can be helpful to ask:

  • How does the vendor know that all providers are using evidence-based practices?
  • What quality assurance processes are in place?
  • How much ongoing training is offered to providers?

Lyra Health has built an exclusive global network of high-quality providers who use only evidence-based therapies. As part of our commitment to evidence-based practice in mental health, we publish peer-reviewed research on whether members in care with Lyra see symptom reduction or recovery. Some key research findings include:

To learn more about choosing an evidence-based workforce mental health solution, download our guide Not All Mental Health Benefits Are Created Equal.

Not all mental health benefits are created equal.

Learn how to choose an evidence-based workforce mental health solution.

Download the guide
About the reviewer
Matthew Jakupcak, PhD

Matthew is a clinical psychologist experienced in clinical research, program development, and implementation science. He has a doctorate degree in clinical psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Boston and spent 16 years as a psychologist with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. As senior director of quality assurance for Lyra Health, he oversees the monitoring of quality and curation of a network of 6,500+ mental health providers.

About the author
Meghan Vivo

Meghan Vivo is a content marketing strategy manager at Lyra Health, where she helps transform mental health care through education, outreach, and storytelling. She has a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Irvine, with a minor is psychology and a juris doctor degree from Syracuse University. Meghan has worked in health care marketing for 15 years, specializing in behavioral health.

Clinically reviewed by
Matthew Jakupcak, PhD
Senior Director of Quality Assurance
25 of May 2022 - 5 min read
Mental health treatment
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