Empirically Supported Treatments for Psychological Disorders

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Empirically supported treatments, otherwise known as evidence-based treatments or evidence-based practices, are treatments and therapies that have research-based medical and scientific evidence showing that they work.

How do doctors know that empirically supported treatments work? That's where the research comes in.

Empirically supported treatments have been tested in scientifically designed randomized controlled trials.

If you're not sure what a randomized controlled trial is, you're not alone. The following explanation can help.

What Is a Randomized Clinical Trial?

First, it's important to understand that randomized controlled trials are considered the "gold standard" for testing new treatments. Every new treatment submitted for FDA approval must be supported by results from randomized controlled trials demonstrating that it's both safe and effective.

For instance, when your doctor prescribes a medication for you here in the United States, it's an empirically supported treatment that the FDA has approved.

The words "randomized," "control," and "trial" have specific meanings in terms of testing new medical treatments:

Randomized means the participants in the study have been assigned in no particular way to the groups that will be studied. This is done so that the results of the study won't be skewed by the participants' or study investigators' knowledge of how they were chosen.

Controlled means that one of the groups studied does not receive the new ("active") treatment being tested. Instead, they receive a "placebo" or "dummy" that looks like the tested medication but doesn't contain its active ingredient. The placebo may be a "sugar pill" or another medication.

This study design allows the researchers to reasonably expect that the health effects they observe in the "active" group that they don't observe in the control group resulted from the use of the new treatment.

Trial simply means that the treatment is on trial during the randomized controlled trial. If the study results are positive for the treatment's safety and effectiveness, and the results lead to approval of it by the FDA, it's an empirically supported treatment.

Empirically Supported Treatments for BPD

The current treatments for borderline personality disorder (BPD) that are considered empirically supported include Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Schema-Focused Therapy, and Transference-Focused Therapy.

Where to Get Additional Information About Empirically Supported Treatments

The Society of Clinical Psychology, a division of the American Psychological Association, maintains a list of psychotherapy treatments that are considered empirically supported. The Society also supports an ongoing discussion within the field of psychology about how best to define and promote the use of empirically supported treatments.

The United States Substance and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) maintains the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP), another list of empirically supported treatments.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Umscheid C, Margolis D, Grossman C. Key concepts of clinical trials: a narrative review. Postgrad Med. 2011;123(5):194-204. doi:10.3810%2Fpgm.2011.09.2475

  2. Temes C, Zanarini M. Recent developments in psychosocial interventions for borderline personality disorder. F1000Res. 2019;8. doi:10.12688%2Ff1000research.18561.1

  3. Society of Clinical Psychology. Treatments.

Additional Reading

By Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD
 Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University.