The Development of a Psychoanalytic Outcome Study Choices, Conflicts, and Consensus

Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY, USA.
Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association (Impact Factor: 0.79). 04/2012; 60(2):311-335. DOI: 10.1177/0003065112443706


This article tells the story of the development of an outcome study of psychoanalysis and describes the debate that took place over critical methodological issues. The protocol committee included career psychotherapy researchers who have conducted rigorous outcome studies, clinical psychoanalysts, study methodologists, and a statistician with clinical trial expertise. The committee worked for two years to develop the study design. This project is based on the premise that clinical psychoanalysis is a treatment. Areas specifically addressed are the goals and hypothesis of the study, inclusion and exclusion criteria, choice of psychotherapies as comparison treatments, definition of treatments and selection of therapists, use of medication, development of a treatment adherence measure, randomization of patient assignment vs. patient self-selection, and primary outcome measures. The execution of this outcome study will require significant effort and resources. A positive result would boost the standing of psychoanalysis, but the results may not support the primary hypothesis that there are therapeutic benefits unique to psychoanalysis and that psychoanalysis can effect demonstrable changes in a patient’s mental life and adaptation that are not achieved by treatments of different orientation and/or lesser intensity. However, more important than whatever specific results emerge is what executing such a study requires of our field: the process of addressing the clinical issues that a study design requires, the creation of a network of analysts around the country working on a common project, and the joining of the clinical psychoanalytic community with a community of psychodynamic researchers.

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