Can Therapy Make Things Worse?

We often talk about the side effects of medications, but the negative effects of psychological therapy are seldom talked about. According to research, a significant minority of people can feel worse after therapy.

Therapy is an effective form of treating many mental health conditions. Effective treatment is ensured by the lasting effects of therapy. However, these long-term effects are not guaranteed to be positive. In other words, therapy might make things worse for a minority of the population. It is a common assumption and notion that therapy is always helpful to everyone, but the success of therapy depends on many factors.

According to a study conducted by a team of people from Imperial College London, out of 14,587 people who were receiving or had recently received therapy for depression or anxiety, 5.2% felt that they suffered “lasting bad effects” as a direct result of their treatment. Most people are indeed going to benefit from an intervention, but some people may not - something that should be informed to the clients before the therapy starts. It’s extremely difficult to decide how the therapy affects the client since it largely depends on self-reported answers. Though researchers recorded how patients felt their therapy had affected them, it’s technically possible that the symptoms could have simply worsened over time, with or without therapy. According to the research, ethnic minorities and non-heterosexuals were more likely to experience the negative effects of therapy, and this might be due to their higher chances of being misunderstood. Understanding the social and cultural context of the client is crucial to establishing a helping relationship.

Mike Crawford points out patients were more likely to report lasting bad effects if they had not been told the details of what therapy they would receive beforehand. If patients first have a conversation about the type of treatment they’re receiving, how it can help, and realistic expectations, this could help prevent any negative effects. Patients should also feel free to talk if they think therapy is causing problems (or if they feel like it is not helping with their anxiety), and they always have the option of calling someone other than their therapist. (Source: Quartz)

In cases of anxiety, therapy can deliberately involve feelings of nervousness or stress to help you in the longer term. As a result, you might be feeling more anxiety than if you were out of treatment and in your comfort zone. There might also be some other aspects of therapy that can create discomfort such as commuting to the location, cost of therapy, exposure exercises, etc. 

A lot of things might contribute to pushing your anxiety levels up. Some things that you can consider to avoid the additional stress are:

  1. Re-working your plan and start with something easier if you are having an overly-stressful experience. 
  2. Telling yourself that “It’s for the greater good”- If you find your day way too hectic- you can reassure yourself by saying- it was worth it.
  3. If you feel that you are not progressing in your therapy; you can examine and evaluate any counterproductive thinking patterns that may be contributing to those feelings
  4. If you worry about what your therapist thinks about you, you can bring it up and work through it because that is what therapy is for!


If you are at the beginning of therapy, it is possible that you feel anxious due to the uncertainty and novelty of the entire situation. It is normal to occasionally feel bad or worse after therapy, especially during the beginning. In some cases, it can be a sign of progress and indicate that you’re going ahead. It is advisable to always be patient and not make impulsive decisions. In cases where therapy feels worse, you can always seek alternate options and talk to a mental health professional. 



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