Mental Illness Counselors and Evidence-Based Treatment

Mental Illness Counselors and Evidence-Based Treatment December 9, 2011

Patty Guzikowski contributed a guest post the other day about how to find an atheist counselor.  My reaction to the piece was…

Evidence-based treatment (EBT), also called empirically-supported

treatment (EST) refers to use of mental and behavioral health interventions for which systematic empirical research
has provided evidence of statistically significant effectiveness.

Seriously?  Seriously????

They have to have a term distinguishing evidence-based treatment from non-evidence based treatment?  Don’t people have to go to school for this stuff?  Do you learn anything in school aside from how to do CBT and not get sued?

Are therapists not bound to use methods proven to work?

What if you went to a doctor and the doctor was not bound to use evidence-based treatment?  Hello malpractice suit!  Well, mental illness is a physical illness, just like cancer, diabetes, etc.  If counselors are not bound to use treatment proven to work, that needs to be changed.

Patty has promised to write a follow-up.

Imagine you’re a Licensed Professional Counselor and you’re sitting at the annual convention of the American Counseling Association will 3000 of your colleagues, waiting for the keynote speaker to be introduced. Who is the last person you’d expect? The last person I expected was a shaman, and yet, the next thing I knew, Dr. Bradford Keeney, world renowned shaman, was being introduced as the keynote speaker of the 2008 American Counseling Association (ACA) convention.

Here’s the text the ACA used to describe Dr. Keeney in a press release prior to the event:

“Keeney, who is accepted as an elder shaman and spiritual teacher in numerous cultures, including the Japanese tradition of seiki jutsu, will discuss his creative approach to psychotherapy that draws upon cultural practices from all over the world. He has conducted one of the broadest studies of global shamanism in history.”

I don’t know why I was so surprised. After all, the first ACA convention I went to opened with a performance by a gospel choir. And by the time of the 2008 annual convention featuring Bradley Keeney, I’d been in the counseling profession long enough to realize that something insidious permeated the counseling culture—something I refer to as a spirituality bias in the counseling profession.

I’ve been a skeptic all my life and an atheist for most of it, but becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor was a midlife career change for me. I went back to graduate school after working in nonprofit business administration for about 10 years. While my career change has been one of the most rewarding life changes I’ve ever made, I didn’t expect to encounter such a spirituality bias and anti-science sentiment in my chosen profession. This bias permeates the profession, beginning with counselor education and continuing to the highest levels of leadership.

This bias is the reason that someone like Bradley Keeney gets a standing ovation from 3000 cheering and hooting counselors, after he has spent an hour and a half telling them to throw away their professional journals and thumb their noses at scientific research. This bias is what allows the ACA President to think it’s a good idea to welcome a shaman to speak at the annual convention—the same convention that was opened with a prayer by a native Hawaiian who happened to be Christian and ended his prayer “in Jesus’ name.”

When I read the convention workshop schedule, I held out a glimmer of hope when I saw a workshop about evidence-based practice (the practice of using treatment methods that have been empirically validated). Unfortunately, this workshop generated very little interest among attendees and was held in the tiniest room they could find. I estimate there were about 20 of us there when it started, and significantly fewer by the end. I stayed to talk to the presenters and ask them what they thought of the keynote address and the standing ovation given to the speaker. One of the presenters described the convention attendees as “basically a bunch of people who don’t like science.”

A bunch of people who don’t like science? How can that be? Professional counselors serving in a wide range of capacities—rehabilitation, mental health, school counseling, counselor supervision—who think evidence-based practice is just not for them, and that professional journals are so useless they cheer someone who would have us abandon research altogether?

If you are interesting in reading more about evidence-based practice and the spirituality bias in the counseling profession, stay tuned. I’m working on another guest blog post for J.T.—coming your way soon.

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