Evidence & Research

There is a growing body of outcome research from the UK and abroad demonstrating the efficacy of child and adolescent psychotherapy.

Child and adolescent psychotherapy is recognised by the Government as a core profession within Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), as set out in Standard 9 of the National Service Framework (NSF) for Children, Young People and Maternity Services (September 2004).

NICE guidance and child and adolescent psychotherapy 

Child and adolescent psychotherapy is a recommended treatment for depression in children and young people according to clinical guidance by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE, September 2005). The profession was represented on the expert group developing NICE guidance on looked after children and young people, which was published in October 2010 and is represented on the group developing NICE guidance on the longer-term management of self-harm. The ACP regularly contributes to the development of NICE clinical guidance. For a full list of our submissions visit Policy Archive in our Media Centre.

Research evidence for the effectiveness of child psychotherapy

Study on childhood depression A randomised controlled trial (RCT) on moderate and severe childhood depression (2007) compared individual child and adolescent psychotherapy and family therapy treatment and reported:

  • statistically significant reductions in symptoms following treatment with child and adolescent psychotherapy
  • ongoing improvement at a six-month follow-up

Study on childhood sexual abuse

Research into therapeutic treatment of girls who experienced childhood sexual abuse (2002) compared individual psychotherapy with psychoeducational group therapy and reported:

  • substantial reduction in psychopathological symptoms and an improvement in functioning following treatment with child psychotherapy
  • a greater improvement in manifestations of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following individual therapy

Ongoing research

Child psychotherapists based in North London, East Anglia, Manchester and the Wirral will be contributing to a major Randomised Controlled Trial of treatments of adolescent depression over the next three to five years. The NHS has funded this very large study to compare the outcome of Treatment as Usual (psychiatric management and support and medication as necessary), Short-Term Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy (STPP) with parallel parent support, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The STPP arm of the trial will be delivered by child and adolescent psychotherapists registered with the ACP. It is anticipated that the findings with have a major impact on the further development of NICE guidelines.

Recent evidence for the effectiveness of psychotherapy

A new academic paper offering the strongest evidence yet that psychodynamic psychotherapy works and keeps working long after the sessions stop is discussed in the article Talk Therapy: Off the Couch and into the Lab (Scientific American, February 2010).

The article's authors Raymond Levy and Stuart Ablon describe the paper of Jonathan Shedler, Association Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, published in the journal American Psychologist. It is reported that Shedler carefully analysed results of randomly controlled trials of psychodynamic psychotherapy treatments. The authors conclude that his most important finding is that "positive change and patient growth continue to develop beyond therapy termination". His findings also suggest that psychodynamic psychotherapy provides patients with the tools to:

  • "continue to function better in the world"
  • "feel better about themselves"
  • "reduce psychiatric symptoms"
  • "face life's challenges with greater flexibility and freedom well beyond the end of their sessions"

Further reading Research evidence into child and adolescent psychotherapy is discussed and scrutinised in two review documents: a systematic review (2004), which examined outcome research; and a thematic review (2007) which examined process research. Research into the process of psychotherapy has helped monitor and improve clinical practise and aided the development of client-focused services.

A new book, Child Psychotherapy and Research: New Approaches, Emerging Findings (2009) also gathers together a wide variety of research contributions.