A client that drops out of therapy is one who does not complete the recommended course of treatment. Many therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, do not have a specific treatment deadline, and clients are considered dropouts when they have voluntarily stopped therapy prior to resolving the issues and symptoms that brought them there to begin with. Dropout is a serious concern for the medical community and the general population. Individuals who drop out of therapy are more likely to have future psychological complications and seek services multiple times, which places an economic burden on society. Because they do not learn adaptive coping strategies and fail to address the issues that plague them most seriously, they are likely to be less than productive in their careers, families, and communities. Additionally, therapists who experience client dropout may begin to question their ability to help clients and their own adequacy.
Understanding the factors that contribute to dropout can provide clinicians with the information they need to address the problem. Joshua K. Swift of the Department of Psychology at the University of Alaska in Anchorage wanted to explore this problem further and made it the focus of his most recent study. Swift analyzed over 650 studies that included more than 83,000 clients and looked at factors such as client age, therapy setting, therapist experience, type of therapy, issues addressed in therapy, and clinician definition of dropout.
Swift found that nearly 20% of all the clients in the studies ended their treatment early. He found that some variables, such as therapy setting, influenced the rates of dropout. He also discovered that rates of dropout were highest among the youngest participants and those seeking treatment for personality or eating problems. Swift believes that more work is needed to determine specific nuances that effect retention. He hopes efforts will be aimed at isolating psychological issues, such as anxiety or depression, and approaches, such as psychodynamic or behavioral therapy, in order to get a clearer idea of the different dimensions affecting treatment completion. Swift said, “By paying attention to these variables and making adaptations where needed, clinicians may be able to reduce rates of premature discontinuation in their work with clients.”
Swift, J. K., Greenberg, R. P. (2012). Premature discontinuation in adult psychotherapy: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology80.4: 547-559.
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