Background: There is a concern in the literature that harm from interventions is insufficiently documented in clinical trials in general, and in those assessing psychological treatments in particular. A recent decision by a trial steering committee to stop recruitment into a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of a psychological intervention for personality disorder led to an investigation of the recording of harm in trials funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
Methods: The protocols and final reports of all 82 NIHR trials funded between 1995 and 2013 were examined for the reporting of adverse events. These were subdivided by category of intervention.
Results: None of the psychological intervention trials mentioned the occurrence of an adverse event in their final report. Trials of drug treatments were more likely to mention adverse events in their protocols compared with those using psychological treatments. When adverse events were mentioned, the protocols of psychological interventions relied heavily on severe adverse events guidelines from the National Research Ethics Service (NRES), which were developed for drug rather than psychological interventions and so may not be appropriate for the latter.
Conclusions: This survey supported the belief that the reporting of adverse events in psychological treatments is weak and the criteria used may not be appropriate. Recommendations are made as to how current practice might be improved.