Enhanced recognition of side effects can improve psychotherapy

Systematic review of adverse effects in psychotherapy trials.


Psychotherapy is a crucial treatment for mental health issues alongside medication. While its benefits are widely recognized, we don’t monitor its adverse effects as closely as we do with medicine. However, psychotherapy can also have adverse effects stemming from various factors like the therapy itself, the client, or the therapist.

A recent study at the University of Eastern Finland investigated adverse effects linked to psychotherapy. Researchers aimed to understand the type, extent, and severity of these effects on clients. They reviewed previous studies on psychotherapy, explicitly focusing on randomized controlled trials (RCTs). 

Despite examining numerous studies, only a tiny portion (30%) mentioned potential adverse outcomes. Ultimately, the review included 57 original studies. Surprisingly, no significant adverse effects were found in these studies. However, it’s crucial to note that they represent only a tiny fraction of all psychotherapy RCTs published.

Professor Kirsi Honkalampi of the University of Eastern Finland said, “However, we should use and develop standardized methods for assessing the adverse effects of psychotherapy. For example, establishing independent systems and systematically collecting data to monitor adverse events could be ways to gain more insight.” 

The study underscores the need for better identification and monitoring of adverse effects in psychotherapy to enhance its quality. While the review did not find significant adverse outcomes in the included studies, it highlights the importance of systematic monitoring and prevention of adverse effects to ensure the safety and efficacy of psychotherapeutic interventions. 

Further research is warranted to explore adverse effects comprehensively and develop strategies for their timely identification and management in psychotherapy practice.

Journal reference:

  1. Kirsi Honkalampi, Henna-Riikka Urhonen, et al., Negative effects in randomized controlled trials of psychotherapies and psychological interventions: A systematic review. Psychotherapy Research. DOI: 10.1080/10503307.2024.2301972.


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