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On Money, Myths, and Multivitamins

Rich SimonBy Rich Simon On the metaphorical list of “Things That Are Good for You” that the general public subscribes to, multivitamins have long occupied an unchallenged position of prominence. Backed by an industry that pulls in over $30 billion a year, supplement brands like Pfizer have claimed that their products ward off chronic illness, promote heart health, and otherwise improve on a balanced diet.

But in the classic cycle of overselling and myth debunking that nearly every health product goes through, three studies recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggest that not only are multivitamins ineffective at preventing chronic illness, they may even be harmful. And in case the studies were too subtle, the journal also published the bluntly titled editorial, “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.”

Sound familiar? Therapists should be well acquainted by now with how quickly pills advertised as universally effective remedies lose some of their luster under the microscope of rigorous study. Case in point: antidepressants. While antidepressants have fallen neatly into a pop-science narrative of chemical imbalances that are corrected with the right doses of the right meds, their effectiveness when compared to placebo has been repeatedly called into question by numerous researchers over the past two decades.

What the studies do show is that psychotherapy—with or without medication—works better in the long run than antidepressants alone. And the legendary Michael Yapko summarizes the situation in this quick video clip from our all-new webcast series on the most effective treatments for depression.

So why do we see so few commercials of re-energized clients doing therapy homework or learning new cognitive behavioral skills? It may be for the same reason we see more ads for vitamin supplements than nutritionists—lifestyle interventions and habit formation are harder to sell than pills. And while supplements and medications have their place in treating illness, they aren’t a substitute for addressing the behaviors, cognitions, and relationships that all play a part in our total health.

Unfortunately, the lack of an industry-sized marketing machine for psychotherapy has cast a shadow over non-drug treatments for depression, in spite of the evidence that they work. In challenging the medical model of depression, therapists present a path to treatment that can spare clients for whom antidepressants aren’t effective wasted money, unnecessary side effects, and harmful pathologizing. And for those clients who do use antidepressants, the right therapy can prove essential in healing past trauma and learning lifelong coping skills.

Not only has our field done a poor job of informing the public of the benefits of therapeutic interventions with depression, we haven’t been very good at highlighting the latest innovations in depression treatment within our own field. But in developing the webcast series Treating the Depressed Client: The Most Effective Approaches, we’ve given therapists on the cutting edge of depression treatment a platform to share some of the most exciting ideas and techniques for working with one of the most common issues we all face in our practices.

Among the presenters in our series are David Burns, Michael Yapko, Zindel Segal, Margaret Wehrenberg, Judith Beck, and Elisha Goldstein. Whether your interest is mindfulness techniques, hypnosis, enhancing client motivation, mind-body approaches, the results in the latest psychopharmacological research, or the latest advances in cognitive approaches, you’ll find this webcast series a goldmine of immediately useful information for your practice. Just click here for more information.

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4 Responses to On Money, Myths, and Multivitamins

  1. The studies you quote are crudely done They don’t apply to the individual client in your office who very well may have been helped immensely by a well thought out supplement program. It would also help them immensely to have access to a therapist who can work with them on strategies of implementing the lifestyle changes and taking their individuuzed prescribed supplement and medication regimens

  2. Chrayl says:

    Michael Yapko may be legendary but he doesn’t understand antidepressants well enough to be speaking about them as an expert. I like the series. David Burns is one of my favorites but watching Michael Yapko made me seriously wish for a refund.

  3. Philippe Isler says:

    As a psychologist who is fairly well informed about natural medicine and the role it can play in mental health, I find it very unfortunate that you cite these recent studies on supplements. There are serious flaws with these studies – for starters they do not follow current recommended dosages of supplements, nor to they take into account the knowledge about forms that are more or less well metabolized. For starters, just look at Dr James Wilson’s thorough discussion on supplements in his book on adrenal fatigue for a sense of the importance of this.

    One even wonders if these “debunking” studies were funded by the pharmaceutical industry, which is actively waging war on several fronts against natural medicine and the supplement industry. (In Canada, successfully lobbying for a bill to restrict people’s free access to them.) You’ve hit a sore spot!

  4. Michael says:

    I’m not sure what Michael says here that reflects him not understanding antidepressants enough. The chemical imbalance theory has long been known to be bunk to anyone with a solid neuroscience background… Irving Kirsh did a solid job of showing that antidepressants are far less effective than the drug companies want us to believe… and David Burns himself doesn’t believe antidepressants are needed if one uses good therapy.

    Many of my medical friends tell me they KNOW antidepressants work from feedback from their patients. Well unless you’re doing a placebo group as well, you have no way of knowing if that improvement is pure placebo or not. The clinical trials show CBT to be a great alternative to antidepressants… and hypnosis with a CBT framework is dramatically better than CBT (we need studies done on this – the problem is that hypnosis is too hard for most clinicians to master, to the level Yapko has)

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