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Nov 27, 2023

At Last! An Outcome Study! 

One of the wonderful things about TEAM-CBT is the dramatic and rapid changes we see in so many of our patients. But we've had a huge problem-no published outcome studies. And that has definitely limited the general acceptance and recognition of TEAM-CBT.

Today, that era has come to an end, thanks to Dr. Elise Munoz, who joins our beloved Feeling Good Podcast to discuss a remarkable outcome study conducted at her Feeling Good Psychotherapy clinic in New York City. She wanted to evaluate the effectiveness of TEAM-CBT with teens and young adults.

Dr. Munoz is the Founder and Lead Therapist at Feeling Good Psychotherapy and Adjunct Assistant Professor at New York University. She is also a Level 4 Certified TEAM-CBT Therapist & Trainer, and specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression and life transitions.

Elise conducted a “naturalistic” study of data from 116 teenagers and young adults aged 13 -24 years of age who were treated by 15 therapists between 2017 and 2022. In a “naturalistic” study, you simply analyze all the data from your patients to evaluate the effectiveness of  the treatment. This is in contrast to a “controlled outcome study” where patients are randomly assigned to two treatments to see which treatment delivers the best results. Elise conducted the research study as part of her work for a Doctorate in Clinical Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

"The results," she says, "were encouraging." That's perhaps a humble description of her findings. David and Rhonda might say that the results were pretty awesome!

Elise told us that although the average number of treatment sessions was 27, most of the patients made maximal gains after just 10 weeks (2.5 months) of treatment, and many achieved maximal improvement by the 5th session.  Specifically, by the tenth session. 80% of the patients scored in the "subclinical" range on the depression scale of my Brief Mood Survey (with scores of 0 to 4) and 87% scored in the subclinical range on the anxiety scale (scores from 0 to 4) . These scales range from 0 (no symptoms) to 20 (extremely severe.) Prior to the study, only 30% were in the subclinical range.

According to Elise, the rapid improvement suggested that most patients will not need long-term treatment, although some will need more time to incorporate their gains following their initial improvement, and many will want to remain in treatment to deal with other problems, such as relationship issues that are so important in this (or any) age range.

Prior to the study, Elise trained the therapists in a weekend TEAM-CBT "boot camp," along with two hours per week of group training and 1 hour per week of individual consultation/supervision. My own view (David) is that learning TEAM-CBT is very challenging, requiring a minimum of one to two years of intensive training. However, the fact that therapists can get excellent results with a relatively small amount of training is encouraging.

One of the key components of TEAM is T = Testing. We test every patient at the start and end of every therapy session, asking, "How are you feeling right now?" This provides the therapist with a kind of emotional X-ray machine that allows you to see the precise degree of improvement, or lack of improvement, at every session in multiple dimensions. Therapists can use the information to fine-tune the treatment on an ongoing basis. Many other research studies have demonstrated that session by session monitoring of symptoms, consisting of measurement and feedback, significantly improves outcomes in mental health treatment. (please contact Elise for a list of research studies you can look up online).

Research indicates that roughly half of adolescents and young adults will suffer from some mental health problem. Therefore, it is essential to provide accessible, effective treatments to prevent the development of long-term mental health problems.

We salute Elise for going the extra mile to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment and to identify the therapists who get the best results. This requires courage and also allows our field to move forward based on real data rather than subjective impressions.

Dr. Munoz’s fascinating work adds to the body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of TEAM-CBT. and also sets a commendable example of dedication to improving mental health outcomes through research and ongoing professional development in a private practice environment. The famous and idealistic “Boulder Model” of the “scientist / practitioner” is highly touted in graduate school graining programs for mental health practitioners, but is rarely practiced in real life. Dr. Munoz shows that the integration of science with clinical treatment in community settings is not only possible, but extremely important.

Dr. Munoz’s research also indicates that the TEAM model offers an exciting path to improved mental health for teens and young adults!