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The negative effects of psychotherapy occur when treatment exacerbates existing problems are leads to the occurence of new symptoms or problems which are not themselves resolved in the course of psychotherapy.

It should be noted that in the course of probably the majority of treatments clients will go through a period of feeling worse as their old habits of coping are replaced with new strategies and ways of thinking. This process can temporarily highten anxiety and insecurity and negative thoughts, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness etc

But since the work of Bergin (1966) we know that, as well as the positive therapeutic outcomes of psychological treatment they can cause longer term serious harm.[1]

Under reporting of negative findingsEdit

It has been noticed that there is a publication bias in the sense that negative findings are generally not so readily accepted for publication as positive results [citation needed].

Statistical biasEdit

Because so many psychotherapy outcome studies are reported in terms of an experimental group's results, attention is not often paid to negative individual outliers. In the standard analysis of an RCT it would be possible for a studied therapy to be recommended as significantly more effective than a placebo control group if 75% of clients improved but where there was a deterioration in the remaining 25%. [citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. Bergin, A.E. (1966). Some implications of psychotherapy for therapeutic practice. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 71, 235-246.

Further readingEdit

  • Barlow, D. (2010). Negative effects from psychological treatments. American Psychologist, 65(1), 13-20

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