Takuya Minami, assis­tant pro­fessor of coun­seling and applied psy­chology at North­eastern, is doing some­thing that might have made even Dr. Freud blanch. Minami is trying to quan­tify how well psy­chotherapy works.

His ulti­mate goal: Fig­uring out why it works.

Psy­chotherapy doesn’t work like tra­di­tional med­i­cine,” Minami says. “If someone breaks his arm or has a fever, there are stan­dard treat­ments to address those patient needs. But psy­chotherapy prob­lems are so spe­cial­ized, and the way psy­chotherapy is prac­ticed is so indi­vid­u­al­ized. Ther­a­pists often tailor their approach to a par­tic­ular patient. And all ther­a­pists have unique styles.”

Before earning his doc­toral degree in coun­seling and applied psy­chology at the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­consin at Madison, Minami studied mechan­ical engi­neering at Waseda Uni­ver­sity, in Japan. It is, he admits with a laugh, much easier to eval­uate cars than psychotherapists.

If you want to com­pare a Porsche and a Honda, it’s a simple matter to test how fast each can travel a mile,” he says. “But we don’t man­u­fac­ture therapists—they’re not robots—so testing methods defy standardization.”

Aiming to add to what was a dearth of knowl­edge on the out­comes of therapy, Minami has already con­ducted research that com­pared tens of thou­sands of “before therapy” and “after therapy” self-​​reports filled out by psy­chotherapy patients.

One group of patients was selected from a managed-​​care data­base. The other came from a uni­ver­sity coun­seling center.

Judging from these ques­tion­naires, Minami says, it seems therapy does work. “Patients report a return to ‘normal,’ or the attain­ment of a better, hap­pier life,” he explains.

Now, he says, “I want to figure out how people get better.”

Minami recently doc­u­mented his work in two papers. Last year, the Journal of Con­sulting and Clin­ical Psy­chology included his article “Bench­marking the Effec­tive­ness of Psy­chotherapy Treat­ment for Adult Depres­sion in a Man­aged Care Envi­ron­ment: A Pre­lim­i­nary Study.” This year, the Journal of Coun­seling Psy­chology pub­lished “Pre­lim­i­nary Evi­dence on the Effec­tive­ness of Psy­cho­log­ical Treat­ments Deliv­ered at a Uni­ver­sity Coun­seling Center.”

According to Minami, who joined North­eastern last Sep­tember, the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity hasn’t “done enough to assess the effec­tive­ness of therapy in the real world. What leads to people attaining a better life is the ulti­mate question.”

Cur­rently, he’s plan­ning two studies to learn more. He intends to look at the rela­tion­ship between client and ther­a­pist, to under­stand more fully how it works.

And he plans to assess the con­nec­tion between the expec­ta­tions a client brings into therapy and that therapy’s suc­cess. Client expec­ta­tions, Minami sus­pects, may be a bigger driver of suc­cess in psy­chotherapy than they are in other doctor-​​patient interactions.