Empirically Supported Treatments

NOTE: This is an archived page of the original EST report by Dr. Dianne Chambless and the Division 12 Task Force and is no longer regularly updated. The information on this page was last revised in July 2012.

The pdf documents  available below are the original reports done by Dr. Dianne Chambless and the Division 12 Task Force.

1. The initial report of the Chambless Task Force describing the development of criteria for empirically supported treatments and the first list of treatments reviewed by the TF that met these criteria.

2. A review by Sanderson and Woody of materials and resources available for training in empirically supported treatments.

There is also a 1998 update to this list.

3. A second report from the Chambless Task Force describing additional thinking about the TF initiative and providing an expanded and re-organized list of treatments.

4. The final report from the Chambless Task Force with a third iteration of the treatment list that adds some areas previously underrepresented.

5. An article which reports on a 10-year follow-up to a 1993 survey of doctoral and internship training programs in clinical psychology, focused on training and supervision in empirically supported treatments.

Empirically Supported Treatments

This information was written by the members of the Dissemination Subcommittee of the Committee on Science and Practice.

(For reprints of published papers for professionals on Empirically Supported Treatments, visit the Journals and Publications page.)

What approaches to psychotherapy are beneficial? Is my psychotherapy helping me with my problems? Is the psychotherapy I am considering likely to be beneficial for me?

These questions are direct and straightforward ones, and psychotherapy patients, and those considering becoming patients, deserve direct and straightforward answers. Unfortunately, these answers are not always easy to obtain.

To address consumers' needs for information about benefits of psychotherapy, this website has been developed by the Committee on Science and Practice of the Society of Clinical Psychology, a division of the American Psychological Association, to provide brief descriptions of various psychotherapies that have met basic scientific standards for effectiveness.

Scientific Standards For Testing Psychotherapies

Therapies described here have been shown to be beneficial in scientific studies meeting several stringent criteria. Patients who participated in studies of the therapies described here had better results than patients who received no treatment, or they had outcomes that were at least equal to those of other patients who received an alternative therapy that has been shown in other studies to be beneficial. The therapies described here have been shown to be beneficial in more than one study conducted by more than one team of scientists. The psychotherapies are described in written treatment manuals so that other therapists can apply the same treatment in roughly the same way with clients who have similar problems.

Most therapies described here were studied in a particular type of scientific study: a randomized controlled trial. Randomized controlled trials are used routinely in medical research to determine which therapies for a given disorder are beneficial. In a randomized controlled trial, patients with the disorder being studied (e.g., clinical depression) are randomly assigned to one of the therapies being studied (for example, interpersonal therapy, cognitive therapy, or antidepressant medication). The delivery of the various therapies is controlled as much as possible (for example, the treatments are of equal duration, are provided by therapists of equal experience, and so on) in an attempt to assure that the only difference between the experimental groups is the treatment type. Some therapies were studied in series of carefully controlled single case studies.

We set stringent scientific criteria for evaluating the therapies presented here, relying on the results of data from carefully controlled studies. We did not rely on the opinions of patients, the opinions of professionals, information obtained from uncontrolled research studies, or other uncontrolled sources of information. Data collected by scientists in controlled studies provide the most objective information available about the benefits of psychotherapy.

Some well-known psychotherapies do not appear here. Usually, this is because they have not been subjected to the types of controlled studies described above, rather than because these psychotherapies have been found to be ineffective or harmful. The field of psychotherapy research is a relatively new one, and therefore many therapies, which may prove to be beneficial, have simply not yet been studied. We recommend that consumers first seek out therapies that have been studied and shown to be beneficial in controlled studies. However, even the psychotherapies shown effective in controlled scientific studies do not help all patients. Therefore, if one of these treatments fails to help, it makes sense to try other therapeutic approaches, even when they have not been evaluated in controlled studies.

Will a Therapy That Has Been Shown to be Beneficial in Scientific Studies Help Me?

No scientific study can show that a psychotherapy shown to be beneficial for the average patient in a research setting will in fact be helpful to any particular patient treated by a particular therapist in the real world. To determine whether a particular therapy is helpful for you, in your unique circumstances, we recommend that you and your therapist work collaboratively to:

  • Set clear treatment goals
  • Agree beforehand on how progress toward the goals will be evaluated
  • Monitor progress carefully
  • Make changes in the treatment plan if progress is not occurring

How to Use this Website

To obtain information about treatment of a particular clinical problem, look for that problem in the list along the left of the screen. If you don't find what you're looking for there, then scroll through the screens. We provide information about the most common disorders (anxiety, depression, substance use disorder), but not all clinical problems.

What Information Do We Provide?

A brief description of each disorder.
If you do not know what disorder you are looking for, try looking in a general area. For example, if you know the problem involves anxiety, read through the descriptions of various types of anxiety disorders. Within each disorder, you will find links to other websites that provide more complete information on that topic.

If you think you might have a problem similar to the ones described here, we recommend that you seek a consultation from a mental health professional in order to obtain expert assistance in determining what sort of disorder you might have.

A list of psychotherapies for each disorder that are supported by evidence from carefully-controlled studies.
Therapies described here address specific problems. One example is: "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Managing Pain." We describe therapies for particular problems (e.g., "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Managing Pain") rather than generic therapies (e.g., "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy") because a general therapy that has been shown to be effective for one specific problem might not be helpful for others. Cognitive behavior therapy is a good example in this case, because you will see it listed as a scientifically supported therapy for many problems. It is important to remember that the specific type of cognitive behavior therapy is targeted toward the specific problem. They are not all the same, even when they have the same name, and this can be confusing.

A brief description of the psychotherapy. 
For each psychotherapy listed with each problem, we briefly describe the therapy; this description was written by the investigators who studied or developed the therapy.

What about Medication Treatment?

Many--if not most--of the disorders listed here are also beneficially treated with medication. We do not provide information about medication treatment here, however. We focus on psychotherapy only. Information about medication treatment is likely to be available on many of the webpages linked to ours.

How Can I Use the Information Provided Here?

If you are in therapy already, ask your therapist whether he or she is providing one of the therapies listed as scientifically supported for your problem. Because we have not covered every problem, if you do not see your problem listed here, ask your therapist about the degree of research support for the treatment approach he or she is using.

To discuss this issue with your therapist, we recommend asking these questions:

  • What diagnosis best describes my problem?
  • What therapies have scientific support showing that they are beneficial for treatment of my problem?
  • Have any of these therapies been studied in randomized controlled trials? What were the results of those studies?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of the therapies you are considering?
  • Which therapy do you recommend for me and why?
  • How much will the therapy cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • Is there any risk of harm from the therapy?
  • How will you know if the therapy is working to help me with my problem?

If you are seeking therapy for a particular disorder, interview potential therapists until you find one who offers one of the treatments that has scientific support. If you have already tried one of the approaches, and found it not to be helpful for you, we recommend you consider another research-supported approach if more than one is available.

Once you are in therapy, discuss the specific goals of treatment with your therapist, and work together to monitor your progress on those goals. As we have said, even treatments that have scientific support will not work for everyone, and carefully monitoring your progress will help you and your therapist decide when it is time to try a different approach.

If your insurance company is offering you treatment by a list of preferred providers, ask your insurance company or HMO whether they offer one of the therapies on our list. If your insurance company is not offering you a provider who has expertise in a scientifically supported therapy, download the information from our webpage and use it to negotiate with your insurance company to obtain treatment that has been shown to be beneficial in scientific studies.

If you need more technical information about the studies that support the treatments listed here, please go to the website for the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology or the Society of Clinical Psychology (a division of the American Psychological Association) to read the full Task Force report on which this website is based.

If you would like to find referrals for therapists who conduct treatment that has scientific support, please go to one of the following websites. Several of these websites also provide ideas for questions to ask potential therapists as you are selecting someone you would like to see for psychotherapy.

  • Anxiety Disorders Association of America
  • Association for Advancement of Behavior Therapy
  • National Institute of Mental Health
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation