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Clin Psychol Psychother. 2014 Apr 24. doi: 10.1002/cpp.1900. [Epub ahead of print]

The Process of Seeking Psychotherapy and Its Impact on Therapy Expectations and Experiences.

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  • 1School of Psychology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada.


Seeking psychotherapy can be conceptualized as having three stages: deciding that therapy might help, deciding to seek therapy and contacting a therapist. The present study examined the duration and difficulty of clients' decisions to seek psychotherapy and whether these experiences were predictive of expected difficulty and commitment to the therapy process. One-hundred and fifty-five adults seeking individual psychological services from a university training clinic were assessed before intake; 107 of these participants also completed measures between the third and fourth therapy sessions and at post-therapy. Deciding that therapy might help was reported to be the most difficult step and took the longest, with each subsequent step becoming easier and briefer. At each step, the more difficult the decision, the more time participants took to make it. Higher distress was associated with more difficulty in deciding that therapy might help and deciding to seek therapy. Duration and difficulty of decisions to seek therapy were positively correlated with expectations of difficulty in therapy as measured prior to treatment and following the third session but were not associated with participants' commitment to therapy. The implications of these results for clinicians and mental health services are discussed. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


The most difficult and time-consuming step for those who seek mental health services is recognizing that their distressing experiences are connected to mental health; clinicians may aid this challenge by providing information on the nature of mental disorders and common symptoms of emotional distress on websites or through other means (e.g., physicians' waiting rooms and advertising campaigns). The next most difficult and time-consuming step for those who seek mental health services is deciding that psychotherapy may help; by providing easily accessible information (e.g., on websites) about what psychotherapy entails, including clinicians' expectations of clients and the benefits/challenges of therapy, potential clients may be able to progress through this step more rapidly and with less difficulty. Clients' expectations of the value of psychotherapy and their commitment to engage in therapy do not appear to be affected by how long it took, or how difficult it was, to obtain psychotherapy. Factors such as forming a strong therapeutic alliance and providing support and guidance during the initial sessions of therapy may be more important in helping potential clients commit to therapy than what they experienced in their efforts to receive psychotherapy.

Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


Psychotherapy Expectations; Seeking Psychotherapy

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