Psychotherapy: FDA Approved

What if psychotherapists could only use FDA approved methods of psychotherapy to treat mental disorders? Most of us in the field seem to believe that psychotherapy works. I sure do.

Earlier this week I listened to this NPR piece in which someone likened use of a video game under consideration for FDA approval for use to treat ADD, to psychotherapy. If a video game needs approval, why not all methods of psychotherapy?

Imagine the impact on psychiatry. Pharmaceutical companies spend millions of dollars to get FDA approval of a new drug, sometimes only for one indication. Given that we treat almost any mental disorder with psychotherapy, how much would it cost to gain approval, and who would pay? Would any method meet criteria comparable to those demanded of drugs? Where would you put the official label?

Critics of big pharma often complain about the cost to society of getting “me too” drugs, drugs that differ little from drugs already available, to market. What about the dozens (hundred?) of psychotherapy methods already in use?

How could the FDA police such a requirement? If the psychotherapist nodded her head during a session, would an investigator deem that intervention psychoanalytic or cognitive behavioral? If she asked, “How do you feel about that?” while claiming to use mindfulness, would she face a fine or prison time?

How might a company promote their brand of psychotherapy? Would reps leave “samples” in psychotherapists’ offices? Would they provide coupons for free sessions?

How would all this affect psychotherapists’ fees -- not to mention insurance premiums?

Maybe we do not need this kind of government oversight for psychotherapy by a person, but can we expect FDA to require approval of psychotherapy provided by a robot or computer?

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