Title

Client Perspectives on Psychotherapy Failure

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2023

Publisher

Taylor & Francis

Source Publication

Psychotherapy Research

Source ISSN

1050-3307

Original Item ID

DOI: 10.1080/10503307.2022.2110020

Abstract

Objective:

This study qualitatively examined client’s definition and experiences of failed psychotherapy.

Method:

Thirteen clients were interviewed by phone regarding their experience of failed psychotherapy. Data were analyzed using consensual qualitative research (CQR).

Results:

Participants defined failed psychotherapy as negatively affecting clients, involving problems in the psychotherapy relationship, and not meeting clients’ goals. When describing specific experiences of failed psychotherapy, participants gradually recognized the failure themselves, but the recognition was sometimes facilitated by others. Pre-termination, the failed psychotherapy yielded negative effects (worsened symptoms/functioning, deteriorating relationship, not addressing clients’ concerns). Participants perceived therapists’ contributions as involving action (insensitive/inappropriate responses to participants’ concerns about psychotherapy) and inaction (not managing psychotherapy effectively). They perceived their own contributions as their difficulty voicing their concerns or asserting themselves. Post-termination effects were negative cognitively/affectively (heightened distress), behaviorally (disinterest in seeking mental health services), and interpersonally (relationship difficulties in later psychotherapy); the failed psychotherapy also helped participants pursue their needs in psychotherapy.

Conclusion:

Failed psychotherapy consisted of problems in the relationship and the treatment not meeting client’s goals. Such psychotherapy worsened clients’ functioning, further damaged an already tenuous psychotherapy relationship, and both therapists and clients contributed to the failure. After termination, failed psychotherapy yielded cognitive/affective, behavioral, and interpersonal effects.

Comments

Psychotherapy Research, Vol. 33, No. 3 (2023): 298-315. DOI.

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