Whether we\u2019re talking about a new medication or a different psychotherapy technique, at some point you\u2019ll hear the phrase \u201cstudies show\u201d that it works. Or you may have read that \u201cresearch indicates\u201d that a particular intervention (for example, practicing yoga to help improve mood) is effective. Perhaps you\u2019ve wondered about this: what kind of studies? How can researchers determine whether someone\u2019s mood has improved? We live in a fascinating and miraculous moment in history where Google puts an amazing amount of information quite literally at our fingertips. But when it comes to making mental health care decisions, how do you comb through it all? Mental Health Research: Effectiveness When we talk about treatment options, the two most important concerns we all share are 1) that it is effective, and 2) that it is safe. How is effectiveness measured in studies that try to evaluate different treatment approaches? When you are exploring the effectiveness of a blood pressure medication, it seems pretty simple: you measure blood pressure before and after using the medication. Assuming nothing else changed, you can say that the medication caused whatever changes are measured. It isn\u2019t quite so easy with mental health\u2014measuring someone\u2019s anxiety level or depression can\u2019t be done by \u201cobjective\u201d means. In other words, there is no blood test or simple measurement that can be taken that will tell you about your mood or emotions. Questionnaires or surveys, sometimes called inventories or clinical scales, are used to measure the effectiveness of an intervention. Commonly, a questionnaire such as the Beck Depression Inventory is given to the study participants before the intervention and again after the intervention. If the score on the questionnaire changes enough, for enough different study participants, \u00a0the intervention would be considered effective. While a great deal of research goes into creating accurate and reliable surveys, they rely on the person filling them out to do so accurately. And the measurement of emotions is tricky at best\u2014\u201chow sad do I feel today\u201d may be a difficult question to answer. Sometimes the surveys are \u201cself-administered\u201d meaning you do it yourself. For some studies, the surveys are administered by the researchers. There are scales that measure anxiety, depression, psychosis and many other symptoms or conditions. But Couldn\u2019t You Just Feel Better For Other Reasons? This leads us to a complex and often frustrating situation\u2014for patients, therapists and doctors. How do you know whether it was that specific intervention that made you feel better? What if during the study time period, you got a new job or fell in love or won the lottery? Ok, not many people win the lottery, but you can see the problem\u2014studies occur during the course of people\u2019s lives and study participants are affected by many life events in addition to and often at exactly the same time as the specific intervention the researchers are trying to measure. This is where things get really tangled up and tough to tease apart. There\u2019s another confounding factor in mental health research, which involves the study participants\u2019 attitude. Hope and faith are strong human emotions that are believed to actually change brain chemistry. This means that when you are depressed, your depression has a negative impact on your brain chemistry, but if you are given a cup of tea and told \u201cthis tea will improve your mood\u201d your hope and faith that it will work may improve your mood even if the tea is just hot water with a drop of food coloring in it! Of course what I\u2019m talking about here is the placebo effect\u2014the idea that your hope, faith, or belief is the actual active ingredient and that the medicine is not what\u2019s helping. A particular type of study is designed to take the placebo effect into account. You may have heard of a \u201cdouble-blind, placebo-controlled\u201d study. This is when researchers try a medication on a large group of people split into two groups: a \u201ccontrol group\u201d (they receive a medication or technique that doesn\u2019t have any active ingredient in it, a sugar pill, for example) and a treatment group that receives the medication or treatment. These types of studies, when well designed and carried out, help to remove the placebo effect. Researchers design these types of studies to test the effectiveness of all sorts of therapies, medications, and alternative techniques. These studies are considered the gold standard in medical research\u2014they do a great job of helping clarify just what is an effective intervention, and what you don\u2019t need to waste money trying. Evidence-Based Treatment Some clinics or rehab facilities advertise that they use \u201cevidence-based\u201d interventions. This means that they look to recent, well-designed research studies for the best ideas about what works, and then use those methods. Evidence-based interventions increase your chances of getting better; they stack the deck in your favor because there is research to indicate that what you and your therapist are doing actually works. And feeling happier, functioning better, and living well are always the ultimate goals.