Causality in Psychotherapy Research

Dr Hanne Oddli, Associate Professor at the Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, is a clinical psychologist, and researcher. In this video she presents the ongoing work promoting evidential pluralism in psychotherapy research based on a dispositionalist understanding of causality.


Identifying causal relationships – deciding what counts for which effect – is at the heart of all scientific inquiry. Accordingly, within psychotherapy and counselling research establishing causality is important to evidence base practices, and to guide policymaking. However, being aware of the complexities of interactions and relationships, most scientists and academics are cautious about claiming causality. Researchers applying research designs that deviate from the classic experimental design – the ‘gold standard’ for establishing causality – abstain from ‘causal explanations’. While some modestly claim ‘correlational relationships’, others resort to ‘understanding’.

Although the distinctions of explanations, correlations, and understanding are fruitful in many respects, they undermine causality in contextually based research designs, reserving the fundamental idea of causality to designs that adhere to the evidential ideals of empiricism (e.g., RCTs as the ‘gold standard’), and what is termed the Humean conception of causality. Accordingly, the explanatory power of results from a host of rigorous research methods and designs that assumedly lack generalizability is undermined.

At this seminar we will discuss alternative conceptualisations of causality, such as that of the ‘dispositionalist perspective’, which emphasizes intrinsic properties and contextual variations. We will argue that a reconceptualisation is needed that recognizes an extended set of criteria of scientific rigor and generalizability of results, reflected in the idea of evidential pluralism. The discussion will be illustrated by the current situation within psychotherapy research, and the APA Policy Statement on Evidence-Based Practice.

Author: CauseHealth

CauseHealth - Causation, Complexity and Evidence in Health Sciences

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