Slow and Steady Doesn't Always Win the Race

Sudden gains in mental health may lead to lasting improvements

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) In a childhood fable about the tortoise and the hare, children learn that patience and precision show better results than spontaneous speed and agility, yielding the phrase "slow and steady wins the race."

Contrary to this popular belief, doctors found mental health to show beneficial results with quick and sudden healing.  Although less common than gradual healing, those experiencing a sudden onset of improvements continued to see considerable long-term mental health gains.  

"Consult a therapist about cognitive therapy improvements. "

A study published in Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology reviews speedy symptom reductions in anxiety and depression treatments to quantify their short- and long-term effects. Sourcing sixteen studies with more than one thousand patients receiving treatment for anxiety disorders or major depression, researchers found that these abrupt improvements tend to last.

Lead author, Morgen Kelly, Ph.D., explains "although researchers are aware that the severity of individuals’ depressive symptoms often fluctuates throughout treatment, it is commonly thought that these fluctuations reflect random variability centered around a gradual linear decline in severity. However, recent research has demonstrated that for a sizable percentage of clients, this assumption of steady, linear change is erroneous."

A meta-analysis of these studies performed under lead author Idan Aderka, Ph.D., a professor at Brown University, included 1,104 participants. The doctor measured effect size to determine the strength of the relationship between sudden gains and overall mental improvement.

The study yielded moderate effects at both post-treatment and follow-up stages. In terms of treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy significantly aided anxiety and depression patients. The therapy showed a three-times higher rate of sustenance of sudden gain over alternative treatments.   

A past study performed at the University of Buffalo supports findings. The 2003 study sought to understand the relevance of the phenomenon called "sudden gains" after the concept's mysterious discovery in 1999.  

Dr. Kelley further noted in her study that 42-percent of patients experienced sudden improvements and "not only maintained these gains, but also enjoyed more improvement and higher rates of recovery than those without sudden gains."

These results allow patients to rest assured, with knowledge that sudden symptomatic relief does last. Furthermore, such studies should provide hope to mental health sufferers that they too may find accelerated improvements ahead. Talk to a mental health professional if experiencing overwhelming anxiety or a negative thought pattern decreasing quality of life.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 30, 2011
Last Updated:
December 3, 2011