Does Counseling Really Help?

In what’s become known as The Consumer Reports Study (Seligman, 1995), Martin Seligman decided to answer one of the hardest questions in psychology: does therapy work? In short, yes! The overwhelming majority of clients who come to therapy are pleased with their outcomes. Here are a few words from the report (italics added): Treatment by a mental health professional usually worked. Most respondents got a lot better. Averaged over all mental health professionals, of the 426 people who were feeling very poor when they began therapy, 87% were feeling very good, good, or at least so-so by the time of the survey. Of the 786 people who were feeling fairly poor at the outset, 92% were feeling very good, good, or at least so-so by the time of the survey. These findings converge with meta-analyses of efficacy (Lipsey & Wilson, 1993; Shapiro & Shapiro, 1982; Smith, Miller, & Glass, 1980).

What Seligman didn’t ask, though, was how people got better through counseling. Assay and Lambert (1999) found that there were four main reasons why people change in counseling. The most important are client factors, or all of the variables a client brings to therapy and these account for 40% of the changes. For instance, their resilience, social support, life history, random chance events, etc. The second largest factor, and the one that counselors work the hardest on, is the working alliance. This is the strength of the relationship between client and counselor and it accounts for 30%. Simply put, if you and your counselor respect each other and are mostly on the same wavelength good things will likely happen and progress will take place. Without this, though, it’s hard to expect much positive change. The third and four factors – the therapeutic techniques and the client’s expectations about treatment, round out the lot at 15% each.

In a nutshell this means that if you put in the effort and you work well with your counselor change can happen and counseling can help!