Empirically Validated Treatments

There have been very interesting posts on the listserv this week, about the necessity (1) to validate the theory underpinning a particular treatment approach, (2) to insure that treatment is based on this validated formulation, and (3) to validate the efficacy of the treatment itself. A particular technique or strategy, devoid of a coherent and tested underlying theory, should not be labeled as an “empirically validated treatment,” much less a “system of psychotherapy,” as many are.

Here’s how Dr. Aaron Beck described cognitive therapy on the listserv:

There is no generic cognitive therapy that fits all cases. From the very beginning, we have focused on a specific conceptualization of each of the disorders. The treatment approach then is derived from the disorder-specific formulation. Thus, in obsessions and compulsions, the theoretical formulation followed by the British group and others centers on modifying the beliefs about the obsession and compulsions. These beliefs can then be modified through behavioral experiments (often referred to as “exposure therapy”) and explicit restructuring of the beliefs about the obsessions and compulsions. I’m afraid of using an artificial dichotomy in separating “cognitive” and “behavioral” techniques. Experience (facilitated by actual in vivo behavior) is one of the most powerful ways of achieving cognitive change. Behavior therapy does not have a monopoly on the behavioral techniques, but what does differentiate behavior therapy and cognitive therapy is the theoretical formulation.

—Posted by Dr. Judith Beck, Director, Beck Institute