The evidence-based group-level symptom-reduction model as the organizing principle for mental health care: time for change?

Jim van Os*, Sinan Guloksuz, Thomas Willem Vijn, Anton Hafkenscheid, Philippe Delespaul

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

111 Citations (Web of Science)


The content and organization of mental health care have been heavily influenced by the view that mental difficulties come as diagnosable disorders that can be treated by specialist practitioners who apply evidence-based practice (EBP) guidelines of symptom reduction at the group level. However, the EBP symptom-reduction model is under pressure, as it may be disconnected from what patients need, ignores evidence of the trans-syndromal nature of mental difficulties, overestimates the contribution of the technical aspects of treatment compared to the relational and ritual components of care, and underestimates the lack of EBP group-to-individual generalizability. A growing body of knowledge indicates that mental illnesses are seldom "cured" and are better framed as vulnerabilities. Important gains in well-being can be achieved when individuals learn to live with mental vulnerabilities through a slow process of strengthening resilience in the social and existential domains. In this paper, we examine what a mental health service would look like if the above factors were taken into account. The mental health service of the 21st century may be best conceived of as a small-scale healing community fostering connectedness and strengthening resilience in learning to live with mental vulnerability, complemented by a limited number of regional facilities. Peer support, organized at the level of a recovery college, may form the backbone of the community. Treatments should be aimed at trans-syndromal symptom reduction, tailored to serve the higher-order process of existential recovery and social participation, and applied by professionals who have been trained to collaborate, embrace idiography and maximize effects mediated by therapeutic relationship and the healing effects of ritualized care interactions. Finally, integration with a public mental health system of e-communities providing information, peer and citizen support and a range of user-rated self-management tools may help bridge the gap between the high prevalence of common mental disorder and the relatively low capacity of any mental health service.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-96
Number of pages9
JournalWorld Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


  • Mental health care
  • evidence-based practice
  • relational components of care
  • public health
  • resilience
  • peer support
  • trans-syndromal symptom reduction
  • recovery
  • e-communities

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