Date of this Version
Counselling and Psychotherapy Research 21:1 (March 2020), pp. 237–243.
What should we tell our younger clients—who may or may not have chosen to come to therapy—about possible risks of engaging in psychotherapy? To explore this question, we examined psychotherapy side effects in 366 young adults with a history of psychotherapy or counseling. Psychotherapy side effects were common, with 41% of participants reporting at least one. Perceived lack of control over the decision of when and how to engage in therapy was the strongest predictor of experiencing therapy side effects. Of the different kinds of side effects, feeling that therapy had gone on too long and experiencing worsening of existing symptoms were the most strongly predictive of poor therapy outcomes such as dissatisfaction with care and lower perceived improvements. Finally, there was a significant association between reporting side effects of psychiatric medications and side effects of psychotherapy, suggesting common factors that contribute to side effect experience across treatment modalities. These findings highlight the need to monitor possible side effects during psychotherapy and counseling, and to have an open dialogue with our youngest clients and their families about the likelihood for negative outcomes when they are compelled to engage in therapy.