Towards a Person-Oriented Approach to Psychotherapy Research


  • Lars-Gunnar Lundh Lund University
  • Fredrik Falkenström Linköping University



Psychotherapy research, Person-oriented, Idiographic, Holism, Interactionism, Common factors, Therapeutic skills


Common conclusions from traditional psychotherapy research are that we still do not know how or why even our most well-studied interventions produce change, and that there is little evidence that any form of psychotherapy is generally more effective than any other. This has led some researchers to the so-called Dodo Bird Verdict, that all forms of psychotherapy are equally effective, and to the conclusion that what is at work are “common factors” that have little to do with treatment method. An alternative explanation, however, is that the traditional research paradigm is insufficiently sensitive to provide us with the required kind of knowledge. First, the outcome in typical RCTs is averaged across individuals, and at best complemented by a search for predictors in the form of stable individual differences. This means that this research stays at a group level of analysis and is insensitive to variation and change in individual patients. Second, the independent variable in RCTs does not consist in any well-controlled psychological intervention, but in large-scale treatment packages that contain a large number of interventions over a considerable time period. In other words, this research is insensitive to the effects of specific treatment interventions. Third, traditional psychotherapy research is insensitive to the therapist and patient as individual persons, and their specific interaction. It is argued that a person-oriented approach to psychotherapy, which is idiographic, holistic and interactional, may be able to overcome some of these problems by being more sensitive to (1) the treatment course of individual patients, and patterns during that course; (2) the effects of the specific interventions that are implemented over time, and (3) the personal characteristics of patient and therapist, and nuances of their interaction.