Is Giving People What They Want the Key to Effective Therapy?

Therapist smiling at person in therapy sessionAs more health care systems embrace personal preferences, a new study published in BMC Psychiatry suggests this move could have positive effects on people who seek psychotherapy. Researchers found that assessments designed to help providers meet the desires of people in therapy could improve outcomes in psychotherapy.

Why Personal Choice Matters in Psychotherapy

A team led by Mike Crawford from the Imperial College of London and the Royal College of Psychiatrists College Centre for Quality Improvement pulled data from the National Audit of Psychological Therapies for Anxiety and Depression. This data, collected between July 2012 and January 2013, explored the effectiveness of a range of psychological therapies in England and Wales. The audit included data on 14,587 respondents who received therapy in 184 of the United Kingdom’s National Health Services (NHS).

Because the National Health Service covers mental health treatment in these regions, those seeking therapy submit their preferences to the NHS, and they may or may not have those preferences met.

Participants answered questions about their psychotherapy preferences in five domains: time of day, location, gender of therapist, language in which therapy was offered, and type of therapy. Each participant answered questions about the extent to which their preferences were met. Participants also used a 5-point scale to assess how effective therapy was at assisting them.

The majority (86%) of participants had a preference in at least one of the five domains, with the most common preference being for a specific time of day. More than a third (36.7%) said they were not given adequate choices. Just 40.5% of those who expressed a gender preference said their preference was met.

Overall, those who either had no preferences in therapy or felt they were given adequate choices were more likely to report a positive therapeutic outcome. Eighty percent of those in this group said therapy helped them.

Offering People in Therapy More Choices

In the United States, most people seeking therapy choose their own therapists, though insurance regulations may limit their choices. Nevertheless, this research suggests giving people in therapy more control over the experience of therapy can improve outcomes. The study’s authors emphasize the importance of continually assessing personal preferences and working to meet those preferences.


  1. Clark, A. (2016, January 15). Patient preferences: Does what you want affect what you get out of psychological treatment? Retrieved from
  2. Williams, R., Farquharson, L., Palmer, L., Bassett, P., Clarke, J., Clark, D. M., & Crawford, M. J. (2016). Patient preference in psychological treatment and associations with self-reported outcome: National cross-sectional survey in England and Wales. BMC Psychiatry, 16(1). doi:10.1186/s12888-015-0702-8

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  • carissa


    January 21st, 2016 at 11:16 AM

    Overall I would say that the more input a patient has into what kind of treatment that they receive the more compliant that they will be. And the more open minded they will be too. It helps to know that you have a voice in your care, and that your thoughts are being listened to and respected. I think that any patient no matter what area in which they are seeking care, is looking for this.

  • Priscilla


    January 21st, 2016 at 3:30 PM

    I mean I guess if we are just talking about appt times and stuff then yeah you try to accommodate. But remember that giving people what they want is not always what they need

  • Mitt


    January 22nd, 2016 at 7:24 AM

    This is where I think that you will see more people turning to different avenues to seek out treatment rather than the traditional one on one office visits that have been the norm for so long.

    Of course we have websites like this one, we even have sites where you can meet and chat with therapists, and from the comfort of your own home. What works for one may not work for another, but when we have so many different options like this then you know that eventually you can discover the one that best gits your schedule and your needs.

  • Tim


    January 22nd, 2016 at 8:35 AM

    Well if they don’t get more of what they want or need, then how can they be expected to go?

  • Jaymes


    January 23rd, 2016 at 12:54 PM

    This is a given from kids on up to adults. You offer up some choices and then go with it from there. No one wants to be made to feel that they HAVE to do something. It’s so much better when anyone feels as if they have a bit of a say in any matter.

  • Suzette


    January 25th, 2016 at 8:57 AM

    When you can do something in your own way and on your terms, then it only makes sense that you are going to be dedicated to having a good outcome. Who wants to waste a lot of their time on something that they are not very fond of or very interested in to begin with? The more you support the process and what you are doing, then the better returns that you will get in the end.

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