When someone undergoes psychotherapy, the hope, obviously, is that they will recover. But if they don’t, what is the worst that can happen? That the therapy will prove ineffective? In fact, therapy can be harmful, with research showing that, on average, approximately 10 per cent of clients actually get worse after starting therapy.
Yet belief in the innocuousness of psychotherapy remains persistent and prevalent. In 2006, for example, when Charles Boisvert at the Rhode Island Centre for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and David Faust at Brown University Medical School surveyed 181 practising psychologists across America, they found that a significant portion (28 per cent) were unaware of negative effects in psychotherapy.
‘One of the subtle things we looked at’, says Boisvert, ‘was whether psychologists’ perceived familiarity with the research on psychotherapy was consistent with their actual familiarity. It wasn’t – some clinicians thought that they knew the research but when it came down to actually testing them, they didn’t score too well.’