Negative effects in psychotherapy: commentary and recommendations for future research and clinical practice

BJPsych Open. 2018 Jul 25;4(4):307-312. doi: 10.1192/bjo.2018.42. eCollection 2018 Jul.


Background: Psychotherapy can alleviate mental distress and improve quality of life, but little is known about its potential negative effects and how to determine their frequency.

Aims: To present a commentary on the current understanding and future research directions of negative effects in psychotherapy.

Method: An anonymous survey was distributed to a select group of researchers, using an analytical framework known as strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Results: The researchers perceive an increased awareness of negative effects in psychotherapy in recent years, but also discuss some of the unresolved issues in relation to their definition, assessment and reporting. Qualitative methods and naturalistic designs are regarded as important to pursue, although a number of obstacles to using such methods are identified.

Conclusion: Negative effects of psychotherapy are multifaceted, warranting careful considerations in order for them to be monitored and reported in research settings and routine care.

Declaration of interest: None.

Keywords: Negative effects; SWOT; commentary; psychotherapy.