Psychotherapy is a key evidence-based approach to the treatment and rehabilitation of various mental health disorders in addition to pharmacotherapy. Psychotherapy is often discussed with a focus on its benefits, while systematic monitoring, detection, and prevention of adverse effects is not as rigorous as monitoring adverse effects in pharmacotherapy. Psychotherapy, however, can also have adverse effects, regardless of the therapy technique, factors related to the client or the therapist, or some combination of these.
A recent study conducted at the University of Eastern Finland explored the adverse effects associated with psychotherapy. The objective was to collect data on psychotherapy-related adverse events, their content, scope, and severity for the client. The researchers conducted a systematic literature review of retrospective reviews and meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) examining the effectiveness and negative effects of psychotherapy. Potentially negative outcomes were only mentioned in a small proportion (30%) of relevant studies, and 57 original studies were ultimately included in the review.
The researchers found that no significant negative findings emerged in the studies included in the review; However, studies represent an extremely small proportion of all published RCTs on psychotherapy.
However, we should use and develop standardized methods to assess adverse effects of psychotherapy. For example, establishing independent systems and systematically collecting data to monitor adverse events may be ways to gain more insight.”
Professor Kirsi Honkalampi, University of Eastern Finland
According to him, accurate identification and management of adverse effects is indicative of good clinical practice and may also help improve the quality of psychotherapy.