What Is Evidence-Based Therapy?

How does a structured therapy approach work and why is it the best choice for anxiety or depression?
Medically Reviewed by
Dr Hamilton
A woman puts a hand to her chin, wondering what 'evidence-based therapy' means
Source: Shutterstock

When you start looking into therapy, the sheer number of buzzwords can be dizzying: evidence-based, licensure, cognitive restructuring, psychotherapy, mindfulness, clinical needs… the list goes on and on. And if you’re not in the industry, or you haven’t been in social circles where therapy is regularly discussed, it’s likely to be super overwhelming.

Like many other therapy terms, ‘evidence-based’ is one of those phrases that makes logical sense at first — based on evidence — but gets more complicated as you learn more about how it’s used. The difference between the common-sense understanding of evidence and the professional standards for a therapeutic practice to be evidence-based is, broadly, about peer-reviewed studies. What a layperson might consider evidence will likely not pass muster.

What defines an evidence-based practice (EBP)

According to the American Psychological Association, evidence-based practice is “the integration of the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, culture, and preferences.” The APA further notes that ‘best available research’ means published, peer-reviewed studies — as many of them as possible — that involve rigorous reviews, reasonable sample sizes, and statistically notable results. 

In other words, one great study doesn’t qualify a practice or treatment as evidence-based, and neither do a handful of less convincing or less rigorous studies. The bar is pretty high.

Youper’s providers always lead with evidence-based therapy

A therapist considers which evidence-based treatment she should employ with a patient
Source: Shutterstock

Why evidence-based treatment is the gold standard

While experts stress that new ideas and as-yet untested innovations in the field shouldn’t be shunned altogether, they agree that the best approach to therapy is to combine a treatment that has been proven effective (EBP) with the provider’s unique experience and expertise, and apply that treatment within the patient’s unique context. 

The use of evidence-based therapy enhances both the likely effectiveness of the treatment and the accountability of the plan — instead of the patient serving as a sort of guinea pig for a variety of approaches, and paying for the pleasure, the goal is to maximize the effectiveness of therapy sessions by applying already-proven techniques. 

Because of this avoidance of unproven, potentially ineffective mental health treatments, evidence-based practice is cost-effective as well as being safe and more likely to improve symptoms.

Three of the top types of evidence-based therapy

There are multiple therapy types that have been proven effective by a number of reliable studies — some of these therapies are specific to a particular issue or diagnosis, and others are more broadly effective.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

One of the most frequently cited types of therapy when it comes to evidence-based practice is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT works by guiding patients to identify, track, and reframe negative thought patterns to help manage their emotional responses. There are a wide range of CBT methodologies that have been rigorously tested, studied, and proven effective for many disorders, including anxiety, depression, body dysmorphic disorder, PTSD, and OCD. 

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)

Like CBT, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) falls under the umbrella of cognitive therapies that help patients manage their emotions — DBT, though, is more focused on extreme instability or self-harm, and has been proven effective for borderline personality disorder and substance use disorders. Techniques like role play and mindfulness practice help patients accept their circumstances and learn to cope with distress or pain.

Structural family therapy (SFT)

Developed by therapist Salvador Minuchin in the 1960s, structural family therapy (SFT) relies on the involvement of all members of the family in order to improve outcomes for troubled children. Rather than focusing solely on the patient, a family therapist using SFT assesses the family structure as a whole and enlists parents and siblings to support, encourage, and hold the patient accountable. SFT has been proven to improve outcomes for both the adolescent patient and the broader family unit.

While some health care professionals believe that too much emphasis is placed on evidence-based practice, there’s no denying that it’s a great place to start when you’re looking for a solution to mental health issues. The benefits of EBT are clear: combining proven effectiveness with provider expertise and patient context leads to better outcomes, faster — which means less time and money wasted on ineffective treatments.

At Youper, we always lead with evidence-based therapy techniques, to help you feel better faster. Our caring providers really listen, personalizing their approach to your unique needs, and our 24/7 chat is available to support you anytime you need it. If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, we can help you find the right solution.

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