Abstract David Keller

From ‘no effects’ to ‘side effects’. Exploring the discourse on psychotherapy’s effectiveness in the age of psychopharmacology

In the course of the 20th century, psychotherapy has become a major field of application, being offered by several mental health professions – in particular clinical psychology and, to varying degrees, psychiatry. With the development of distinct ‘schools’ of psychotherapy and the increasing dissemination of psychotherapeutic interventions in both inpatient and outpatient settings in the second half of the 20th century, debates on its outcome have become a prominent and recurring feature of the mental health discourse. Since Eysenck’s famous study from 1950, which concluded that psychotherapy had no effect at all, a large number of investigations being armed with sophisticated methodologies and advanced statistical techniques, have argued for the efficacy and effectiveness of psychotherapy.

What is observable, though, is a growing debate on its potential ‘side effects’. Beginning in the early 2000s, a number of theoretical papers, empirical studies, and scales have emerged to address a topic deemed “crucial, but largely ignored“.

In my presentation, I want to explore this recent debate, its arguments and implicit assumptions, and place it in the larger struggle of the psychological sciences to prove that its interventions do ‘work’ – especially in times, when psychotropic medication seems as a quick and cost-effective fix to mental ailments.


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