What Does It Mean to Have a Meaning Problem? Meaning, Skill, and the Mechanisms of Change in Psychotherapy

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Abstract
Psychotherapy is effective. Since the 1970’s, meta-analyses, and meta-analyses of meta-analyses, have consistently shown a significant effect size for psychotherapeutic interventions when compared to no treatment or placebo treatments. This effectiveness is normally taken as a sign of the scientific legitimization of clinical psychotherapy. A significant problem, however, is that most psychotherapies appear to be equally effective. This poses a problem for specific psychotherapies: they may work, but likely not for the reasons that ground their theoretical explanations for their effectiveness. A prominent explanation for the findings of common efficacy in psychotherapy is to postulate that all successful therapies work by altering maladaptive meanings and providing patients with new, more adaptive meanings. This paper argues that the ‘meaning view’ of psychological change is likely mistaken; psychological problems are not normally problems of meaning nor are they directly ameliorated by changes in meaning. This paper then outlines a skill-based explanation for the findings of the common efficacy of psychotherapy.
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First archival date: 2020-03-09
Latest version: 7 (2020-05-15)
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2019-09-11

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