Is psychotherapy a science or a religion? Review of Psychotherapy as religion: The Civil Divine in America by William M. Epstein

Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date



American Psychological Association


Reviews the book, Psychotherapy as Religion: The Civil Divine in America by William M. Epstein (see record 2006-11046-000). Professor Epstein pulls no punches in his new book. The first sentence begins, “Psychotherapy in America is immensely popular but consistently ineffective” (p. ix). He asserts that psychotherapy really doesn't work and that the thousands of research studies that have examined psychotherapy outcome are really all methodologically so flawed that they have not demonstrated any scientific basis for the benefits of psychotherapy. He purports that the entire psychotherapy endeavor is basically a civil or secular religion stating that it is “a social and political fable… (and) a form of denial” (p. ix). Epstein, a social work professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, certainly has done his homework. He presents study after study on psychotherapy outcome that he claims has serious and fatal flaws. He clearly has closely reviewed numerous studies to be able to detail these methodological flaws so carefully, and he presents this information in great detail–sometimes perhaps too much detail. But with such a bold approach, he is in a position to need more data than less, and he provides it with both barrels. He addresses psychotherapy outcome research related to depression, anxiety, addictions, eating disorders, and violence. He points out critical and fatal flaws in theory, methodology, and instrumentation. He separately addresses the unique problems with psychodynamic, behavioral, and cognitive-behavioral treatment approaches.


PsycCRITIQUES - Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books