The relative importance of relational and scientific characteristics of psychotherapy: Perceptions of community members vs. therapists

J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2016 Mar;50:171-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2015.08.004. Epub 2015 Aug 12.


Although client preferences are an integral component of evidence-based practice in psychology (American Psychological Association, 2006), relatively little research has examined what potential mental health consumers value in the psychotherapy they may receive. The present study was conducted to examine community members' preferences for the scientific and relational aspects of psychotherapy for different types of presenting problems, and how accurately therapists perceive these preferences. Community members (n = 200) were surveyed about the importance of scientific (e.g., demonstrated efficacy in clinical trials) and relational (e.g., therapist empathy) characteristics of psychotherapy both for anxiety disorders (e.g., obsessive-compulsive disorder) and disorder-nonspecific issues (e.g., relationship difficulties). Therapists (n = 199) completed the same survey and responded how they expected the average mental health consumer would. Results showed that although community members valued relational characteristics significantly more than scientific characteristics, the gap between these two was large for disorder-nonspecific issues (d = 1.24) but small for anxiety disorders (d = .27). Community members rated scientific credibility as important across problem types. Therapists significantly underestimated the importance of scientific characteristics to community members, particularly in the treatment of disorder-nonspecific issues (d = .74). Therapists who valued research less in their own practice were more likely to underestimate the importance of scientific credibility to community members. The implications of the present findings for understanding the nature of client preferences in evidence-based psychological practice are discussed.

Keywords: Anxiety disorders; Evidence-based practice; Preferences; Psychotherapy.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychotherapy*
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult