Which Methodological Practice(s) for Psychotherapy Science? A Systematic Review and a Proposal

  • Omar Carlo Gioacchino GeloEmail author
  • Gloria Lagetto
  • Chiara Dinoi
  • Erika Belfiore
  • Elisa Lombi
  • Stefano Blasi
  • Massimo Aria
  • Enrico Ciavolino
Regular Article


Three main methodological practices have been employed in psychotherapy science: the empirical-quantitative, empirical-qualitative, and theoretical one. Some scholars have argued for a monopoly of the empirical-quantitative methodological practice, sustained by scientific monism. This systematic review aims at exploring the contribution of each methodological practice to the field. Fifteen journals were searched from 2003 to 2013. A total of 9796 publications and 9915 studies met inclusion criteria and were coded for the methodological practice employed. Empirical-quantitative studies were the most published overall, over time, and in most of the journals considered. This overwhelming prevalence increased when considering the citation rates of the publications. We argue that these results are indicative of a quantitative monopoly, which in turn is due to a lack of critical thinking sustaining scientific monism. We call for disciplinary critical thinking and the consequent scientific pluralism valuing the plurality, diversity, and multiplicity of all the existing methodological practices.


Psychotherapy science Methodological practice Research methods Scientific method Methodological pluralism Scientific pluralism Scientific monism Quantitative monopoly 



We would like to thank the following SPR past presidents who replied to our survey: Lynne Angus, Lorna Smith Benjamin, Larry E. Beutler, Louis G. Castonguay, John Clarkin, Paul Crits-Christoph, Guillermo de la Parra, Irene Elkin, Robert Elliot, Marvin R. Goldfried, Leslie S. Greenberg, Alan S. Gurman, Clara E. Hill, Mardi J. Horowitz, Horst Kächele, Michael J. Lambert, Erhard Mergenthaler, David E. Orlinksy, William E. Piper, George Silberschatz, William B. Stiles, Bernhard Strauß, Jeanne Watson, Hadas Wiseman.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Omar C. G. Gelo declares that he has no conflict of interest. Gloria Lagetto declares that she has no conflict of interest. Chiara Dinoi declares that she has no conflict of interest. Erika Belfiore declares that she has no conflict of interest. Elisa Lombi declares that she has no conflict of interest. Stefano Blasi declares that she has no conflict of interest. Massimo Aria declares that she has no conflict of interest. Enrico Ciavolino declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History, Social Sciences and Human StudiesLecceItaly
  2. 2.Faculty of Psychotherapy ScienceSigmund Freud University ViennaWienAustria
  3. 3.Department of Humanistic StudiesUniversity of Urbino Carlo BoUrbinoItaly
  4. 4.Department of Economics and StatisticsUniversity of Naples Federico IINaplesItaly

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