The world of psychotherapies and therapeutic approaches to psychological problems contains a great variety of proposals. Some of them have proven to be very effective, but others exist more as a tradition or as a way of expressing a life philosophy than as solutions that will offer guaranteed results.

That is why it is good to know both the psychological therapies with a more proven effectiveness and those whose clinical utility is more questioned. We will now look at the latter: the psychotherapies with little or no proven efficacy .

Psychological therapies with little scientific validity

It should be noted that the fact that these therapies are not well supported scientifically does not mean that they cannot be enjoyable or motivational experiences for some people.

This fact leads some patients to believe that feeling good in the sessions is indicative of the therapeutic advances being made, but this is not the case.Psychotherapy has an objective defined by the field of intervention to which it belongs: clinical and health psychology, and therefore its effects must be noticed in the way psychological disorders and problems are expressed in general.

Having said that, let’s look at some types of psychotherapy that have less empirical validity than they often appear to . These therapies do not appear in any particular order.

1. Regression therapy

Regression therapy was born in the 19th century with the theories of the French neurologist Pierre Janet , a figure who had a lot of influence on Sigmund Freud. This is why it is included in the forms of therapy linked to psychoanalysis and the psychodynamic current in general.

Like Freudian psychoanalysis, regression therapy places great emphasis on the importance of past experiences in the mental state of the present. However, it is characterized by the idea that those memories that have been stored in the memory and that condition what the person is in the here and now are, in reality, false, deformations of what really happened.

The phenomenon of the spontaneous modification of memories is something that both neurosciences and cognitive sciences have been testing for a long time, and yet the theory behind regression therapy assumes that this deformation of memories is due to conflicts of the unconscious .

Currently, there is no comprehensive research or meta-analysis to demonstrate the effectiveness of regression therapy.

2. Psychoanalytic therapy

This type of therapy has its origin in the initial ideas of Sigmund Freud, and is based on the analysis of the unconscious conflicts that originate in childhood according to the ideas of this neurologist. Psychoanalytic therapy focuses on the search for the understanding of the instinctive impulses that according to Freudian theory are repressed by the conscience and that are stored in the subconscious affecting the patient.

The psychoanalyst therapist uses techniques such as free association, with which he tries to help the patient express his cognitions (thoughts, ideas, images) and emotions without any kind of repression, which would lead the patient to emotional catharsis. At present, this form of psychotherapy is used less and less in Europe, but in some countries, such as Argentina, it is still very popular.

It is currently considered that psychoanalysis does not enjoy solid evidence about its effectiveness , among other things for the same reasons that led the philosopher Karl Popper to criticize this approach: if the sessions do not produce the expected effect, one can always appeal to the deceptions of the client’s unconscious.

However, the social impact of psychoanalysis has been such that it has been claimed outside the field of health as a tool to interpret stories, artistic forms of expression and social phenomena in general. For example, it has had a great impact on radical feminism.

You can read more about this therapeutic theory in our article: “Sigmund Freud: life and work of the famous psychoanalyst”

3. Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is derived from psychoanalysis, but leaves behind the classical view. It focuses on greater therapeutic brevity and puts the focus on the most prominent conflicts of the patient’s current condition. With the intention of leaving behind the classical psychoanalytic approach, it takes up aspects of the analytical approach of the self or that of the object relations of the Kleinian current.

Some psychologists such as Alfred Adler or Ackerman have been involved in the development of this form of therapy, and despite the changes, the aim remains that of helping the patient to gain “insight” into their hidden conflicts .

There are a number of differences between psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapy. Psychodynamic therapy is characterized by:

  • Have shorter sessions: one or two sessions per week. In psychoanalytic therapy there are three or four.
  • An active and direct role of the therapist.
  • The therapist gives advice and reinforcement not only in the conflicting aspects, but also in the non-conflicting ones.
  • Use a greater variety of techniques: interpretative, supportive, educational…

As with traditional psychoanalysis-based therapy, this approach also lacks sufficient empirical evidence to indicate its clinical usefulness.

4. Humanist Therapy

Humanist therapy emerged in the mid-20th century and is influenced by phenomenology and existentialism. Its main exponents are Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, and it adopts a holistic approach to human existence and pays special attention to phenomena such as creativity, free will and human potential. It is presented as a tool that encourages self-exploration and the visualization of oneself as a whole person.

While Abraham Maslow emphasizes a hierarchy of needs and motivations, Carl Rogers was the one who created the person-centered approach , more focused on psychotherapy. In humanistic therapy the therapist takes an active role and tries to facilitate the patient (who is called client) to become aware of the real experience and restructuring of his or her self, through the establishment of a solid therapeutic alliance.

Humanistic therapy has been used to treat a wide range of mental health problems , including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, personality disorders and various addictions. However, there is no firm evidence about its effectiveness. However, wishful thinking and the application of “common sense” to therapy lead many people to believe that being guided by positive life principles and that we can intuitively relate to the idea of happiness is equivalent to following a truly effective therapy.

5. Gestalt therapy

Gestalt therapy is developed under the influence of humanistic philosophy, but unlike Carl Rogers’ therapy, its focus is on the thoughts and feelings of the here and now, on self-awareness. The creators of this therapeutic model are Fritz Perls and Laura Perls.

Gestalt therapy is a type of holistic therapy that understands that the mind is a self-regulating unit. Gestalt therapists use experiential and experiential techniques to try to improve the patient’s self-awareness, freedom and self-direction. However, has nothing to do with Gestalt psychology , which emerged before the proposals of the Perls and focused on the scientific study of perception and cognition.

Unfortunately, this approach is based more on ethical principles and abstract ideas about what a happy person’s “mind” is than on a scientifically formulated model of how mental processes and behaviour work. His proposals are based on intuitive ideas about what it means to “live in the present” and to gain awareness of what is happening, so he escapes any attempt to prove his effectiveness in a relatively objective way.

  • Related article: “Gestalt therapy: what is it and what are its principles?”

6. Transactional Analysis

Transactional analysis is a type of humanistic psychotherapy that, despite originating in the 1950s and 1960s, is still applied today. It was baptized as a model of social psychiatry, in which the unit of social relationship is the transaction. It is a form of therapy that presents itself as a very versatile tool, and can be proposed in a multitude of contexts .

Transactional analysis attempts to work directly in the here and now, while proposing initiatives to try to help patients develop day-to-day tools to find creative and constructive solutions to their problems. In theory, the ultimate goal is to ensure that patients regain absolute autonomy over their lives, thanks to the development of spontaneity, awareness and intimacy.

However, part of the theory on which this therapy is based uses extremely abstract or directly esoteric concepts , so it is not surprising that its scientific validity and effectiveness has proved to be very poor or practically non-existent.