Testing the null hypothesis of psychological therapy

What forms of medicine don’t require an etiological approach, other than psychology and psychiatry?

This 2015 UK human study found:

“Supported cCBT [computerised cognitive behaviour therapy] does not substantially improve depression outcomes compared with usual GP [general practitioner] care alone.

In this study, neither a commercially available nor free to use computerised CBT intervention was superior to usual GP care.”

Subjects had concurrent access to most of the relevant UK health system:

“We imposed no constraints on usual GP care in the control or intervention groups, and participants were therefore free during the trial to access any treatment usually available in primary care, including the use of antidepressants, counselling, psychological services (including Improving Access to Psychological Therapy services, which were present in most sites during the course of the trial), or secondary care mental health services.”


The study’s null hypothesis was developed as follows:

“We based our sample size calculation on the usual care arm of primary care depression trials, where the proportion of patients responding to usual care was in the region of 0.6. This proportion is similar to that found in a UK Health Technology Assessment trial of antidepressants in primary care.

We regarded a figure of not more than 0.15 below this proportion as being acceptable, given the additional care options that are available to patients who do not initially respond to cCBT within a stepped care framework. In our original calculation, to detect non-inferiority with the percentage success in both groups as 60% and a non-inferiority margin of 15% with over 80% power and assuming 25% attrition, we required 200 participants in each of the three arms.”

The study’s null hypothesis was: the two cCBT methods wouldn’t improve on the “60%” “success” of both “the usual care arm” and “antidepressants in primary care.”


What outcome does a person desire when they seek out psychological care? I’d guess that their first need would be to stop their current suffering.

From a patient’s short-term perspective, the null hypothesis – any form of psychological therapy in the UK healthcare system wouldn’t improve their short-term condition – is likely to be initially disproved.

So, what accounts for the 40% failure rate? Or, as phrased in Psychological therapy and DNA methylation:

“Although CBT has been established as an efficacious treatment, roughly 40% of children retain their disorder after treatment.”

I’d guess that the treatments’ methods aren’t capable of anything more than temporarily suppressing symptoms. But the symptoms return, and require further interventions in order to stay suppressed.


From a patient’s long-term perspective, what would it take to disprove the null hypothesis – any form of psychological therapy in the UK healthcare system wouldn’t improve their long-term condition?

I’d guess that to effectively treat patients in the long term, and prevent future suffering, the originating causes need to be addressed. IAW, hold psychological therapy to the same standard of care expected in other medical treatments.

http://www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h5627 “Computerised cognitive behaviour therapy (cCBT) as treatment for depression in primary care (REEACT trial): large scale pragmatic randomised controlled trial”

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