Nav: Home

Ground-breaking research on the side effects of therapy

February 07, 2017

While many people who suffer from depression and anxiety are helped by seeing a psychologist, others don't get better or actually get worse. Psychological treatment can have negative side effects, like any medicine. This unexplored territory is the focus of a new dissertation out of Stockholm University.

'We know now that therapy is an effective treatment for different forms of mental illness. What we don't know so much about is whether certain patients can actually get worse or have other types of side effects from their treatment,' says Alexander Rozental, licensed psychologist and PhD in psychology.

He has, among other topics, researched the effectiveness of online cognitive behavioural therapy. Online CBT is more or less like following a self-help book with the support of a psychologist through email. The method is recommended by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare guidelines which Sweden's local governments rely upon heavily.

'This dissertation is the first to examine the side effects of internet-based therapy. There's no international research, either. That's why this research is so important. If we're going to use this method widely, we have to be aware of the risks,' says Alexander.

The part of the dissertation that focused on internet-based therapy showed that around 6% of the 3000 patients studied got worse during treatment. In another study, people who had received psychotherapy, for example, in an outpatient psychiatric setting, in the past few years were asked if they had experienced other types of negative effects.

'We saw that a third of people had a difficult memory resurface, had more anxiety, or felt stressed. It was also not uncommon to have a poor relationship with the therapist or low-quality treatment.'

It's not so surprising that people can feel worse when dealing with unpleasant experiences in therapy. It's also true that a treatment than can have a positive effect on some people can affect others negatively, just like medicine. What is needed is a better understanding of side effects, both for catching patients who become worse earlier and protecting patients from rogue therapists.

'I hope that psychologists and psychotherapists become more aware that there can actually be side effects and that they need to ask patients whether they are experiencing any. I also think that society should regulate who is allowed to provide treatment. There are currently no laws preventing an unlicensed person from working in mental health,' he says.
The entire dissertation can be downloaded from DiVA:

For more information, contact:

Alexander Rozental, phone: +46 73-693 79 48 email:
Stockholm University Press Service, phone: +46 8-16 40 90, email: press@su.

Stockholm University

Related Health Articles:

Health records pin broad set of health risks on genetic premutation
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marshfield Clinic have found that there may be a much broader health risk to carriers of the FMR1 premutation, with potentially dozens of clinical conditions that can be ascribed directly to carrying it.
Attitudes about health affect how older adults engage with negative health news
To get older adults to pay attention to important health information, preface it with the good news about their health.
Geographic and health system correlates of interprofessional oral health practice
In the current issue of Family Medicine and Community Health (Volume 6, Number 2, 2018, pp.
Bloomberg era's emphasis on 'health in all policies' improved New Yorkers' heart health
From 2002 to 2013, New York City implemented a series of policies prioritizing the public's health in areas beyond traditional healthcare policies and illustrated the potential to reduce cardiovascular disease risk.
Youth consider mobile health units a safe place for sexual health services
Mobile health units bring important medical services to communities across the country.
Toddler formulas and milks -- not recommended by health experts -- mislead with health claims
Misleading labeling on formulas and milks marketed as 'toddler drinks' may confuse parents about their healthfulness or necessity, finds a new study by researchers at the NYU College of Global Public Health and the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut.
Women's health has worsened while men's health has improved, trends since 1990 show
Swedish researchers have studied health trends among women and men aged 25-34 from 1990-2014.
Health insurance changes, access to care by patients' mental health status
A research letter published by JAMA Psychiatry examined access to care before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and after the ACA for patients grouped by mental health status using a scale to assess mental illness in epidemiologic studies.
Community health workers lead to better health, lower costs for Medicaid patients
As politicians struggle to solve the nation's healthcare problems, a new study finds a way to improve health and lower costs among Medicaid and uninsured patients.
Public health guidelines aim to lower health risks of cannabis use
Canada's Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, released today with the endorsement of key medical and public health organizations, provide 10 science-based recommendations to enable cannabis users to reduce their health risks.
More Health News and Health Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab