ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2017, Vol. 25 ›› Issue (2): 253-264.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2017.00253

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Common factors vs. specific ingredients in psychotherapy: Controversy and integration

YANG Wendeng1,2; ZHANG Xiaoyuan2   

  1. (1The Center for the Psychology and Brain Science, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou 510006, China) (2 Department of Psychology, School of Public Health, Southern Medical University, Guangzhou 510515, China)
  • Received:2016-02-26 Online:2017-02-15 Published:2017-02-15
  • Contact: ZHANG Xiaoyuan, E-mail:


Common factors theory and specific ingredients theory are two contradictory theories on the contributing factors of therapeutic change in psychotherapy. This article reviews the definition of common factors theory and its two developmental pathways; explores the concepts and research advances of the specific ingredients theory through examples of empirically supported treatment; and discusses respectively the issues and debates within each of the theories. We concluded that the concepts of "common factors" and "specific ingredients" represent a temporary categorization of the contributing facts of therapeutic change, mainly through the eyes of researchers. These two concepts are largely interdependent and interchangeable; however, even a combination of them may still not be able to accommodate all factors of therapeutic change. In the future, there is a need to further understand the process and mechanism of therapeutic change; to equip our next-generation clinical psychologists with skills for both "common factors" and "specific ingredients"; and to gradually integrate these two camps into one through the promotion of evidence-based psychotherapies.

Key words: common factor, specific ingredient, therapeutic change, empirically supported treatment, evidence-based psychotherapy, integration