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Lester B. Luborsky (1920-2009) was one of the founders of scientific research in psychotherapy.
Luborsky was born and raised in Philadelphia.
He graduated from Philadelphia Central High School and then earned his bachelors degree at Pennsylvania State University.
Luborsky received his Ph.D. in psychology from Duke University. He was an instructor at the University of Illinois for two years. He then spent eleven years at the Menninger Foundation before joining the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania.
Author of nine books and over 400 articles, he had the rare ability to apply a scientific eye to the personal processes of psychotherapy. He examined the factors that make psychotherapy work, along with large scale studies of outcome. Among his major research contributions were the development of methods that could be used to study therapeutic processes, notably the Symptom-Context Method, which gives a way to understand and study symptoms as they occur, and the CCRT (Core Conflictual Theme Method), which allows for the study of the psychoanalytic concept of the transference. Other measures include The Helping Alliance, which gives a way to study the impact of the therapeutic relationship, and Health-Sickness Rating Scale, which was later adapted to become the Global Assessment of Functioning (Axis V) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), as noted in the DSM-IV.
Following an extensive meta-analyses of psychotherapy outcome studies Luborsky (2002) showed that the effect size that can be attributed to specific therapy techniques is only 0.2. Therefore, all therapies are to considered equal and "all must have prizes".
This finding has been taken to support Saul Rosenzweig (1936) who coined the phrase the "Dodo bird verdict", and has been extensively referred to in subsequent literature as a consequence of the 'common factor' theory. This is the theory that the specific techniques that are applied in different types and schools of psychotherapy serve a very limited purpose (such as a shared myth to believe in), and that most of the positive effect that is gained from psychotherapy is due to factors that the schools have in common, namely the therapeutic effect of having a relationship with a therapist who is warm, respectful and friendly.
He received numerous awards, among them the Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Applications of Psychology and the Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Applied Research of the American Psychological Association, The Sigourney Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Field of Psychoanalysis, and The Award for Distinguished Psychoanalytic Theory and Research by the American Psychoanalytic Association.
- Rosenzweig, Saul (1936). Some implicit common factors in diverse methods of psychotherapy. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 6: 412–415.
- Luborsky, Rosenthal, SIguer, Andrusyna, Berman, Levitt, Seligman, Krause (2002). The Dodo bird verdict is alive and well - mostly. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 9: 2–12.
- Chambless, Dianne (2002). (commentaries) Beware the Dodo Bird: the dangers of overgeneralization. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 9: 13–16.
- Luborsky (1984) Principles of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy: A Manual for Supportive-Expressive (SE) Treatment
- Luborsky & Crits-Christop (1990, reissued in 1998) Understanding Transference, The Core Conflictual Theme Method
- Luborsky (1996) The Symptom-Context Method: Symptoms as Opportunities in Psychotherapy
- Luborsky, L & Luborsky, E (2006) Research & Psychotherapy: The Vital Link
- Philadelphia Inquirer. October 30, 2009
Hans Herrman Strupp
Society for Psychotherapy Research