Evidence-based therapy falls under the wider movement of Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) that began in medicine and then expanded to others fields, including nursing, education, and psychology (including psychotherapy). EBP, in short, argues that professionals should practice their occupation based on the most current scientific evidence, and the goal of EBP is ensure that that practitioners use scientifically-based, effective procedures and stop using unhelpful and outdated ones.
Clinical Psychologists, who train as both researchers and clinicians, have a long history of integrating science with psychotherapy. Mary Cover Jones (1924), for instance, applied the early scientific findings of behaviorism to reduce fear in a toddler. And much more recently, psychologists (Craske et al., 2019) have used neuroscience to refine the treatment of anxiety and depression.
Evidence-based practice in psychology
The American Psychological Association (2006; 2021), the leading professional organization for licensed psychologists, has taken steps to summarize how evidence-based practice should apply to practicing psychologists. The APA's framework emphasizes three components: best available research; clinical expertise; and patient characteristics, culture, and preferences.
The first component of EBP in psychology, best available research, means that practicing psychologists have a responsibility to keep up-to-date with countless areas of scientific investigation. Psychologists should know, for example, evidence from research that evaluates the efficacy of specific treatments (e.g., CBT) for specific diagnoses (e.g., depression) and findings about how the relationship between client and therapist can affect treatment success. In some ways, this component refers to what psychologists need to know.
The second component, clinical expertise, refers to therapists' competence based in their education, training, and experience. It includes numerous sub-components, including: assessing, diagnosing, and planning treatment for each unique, individual patient; developing and maintaining interpersonal skills to improve the therapeutic relationship; and using self-reflection to understand the limitations of their expertise and to guide future learning. In short, this component refers to how psychologists do their jobs.
The final component, patient characteristics, culture, and preferences, highlights how psychologists will be most effective when they adjust their practice to each individual patient's characteristics and contexts, such as their specific problems, strengths, ethnicity & race, gender identify, sexual orientation, sociocultural contexts, and treatment preferences. For example, there's evidence that accommodating cultural explanations of emotional distress can enhance treatment outcomes (Benish et al., 2011) and that providing affirming care can improve mental health among LGBTQ young adults (Pachankis et al., 2020). In short, this component reminds psychologists that who they work with is an individual, comprising multiple, intersecting identities, preferences, and characteristics.
How understanding evidence-based practice can help you in therapy
Working with a therapist who adheres to evidence-based practice ensures that you're getting quality care. It means that the therapist uses therapy techniques grounded in scientific evidence and in clinical training, experience, and wisdom. It also means that the therapist works to individualize treatment to you, ensuring that relevant characteristics of you and your context are integrated into treatment, as needed.
I provide evidence-based therapy in my practice. My training as a scientist allows me to maintain current knowledge of psychotherapy-related research, ensuring that you're receiving quality care related to your goals, My intensive training and supervision in ERP and CBT also give me expertise in treating anxiety, OCD, and depression. You're welcome to contact me if you have any questions.