Therapy Can Be Harmful

When doctors primarily deal with the body, such as surgeons and physicians, they’re held to an incredibly high standard. The moment there’s a hint that they’ve made a judgment call that brought harm to a patient, they’ll be dealing with a malpractice suit.

Maybe it’s due to those clearly defined catastrophic outcomes that put those kinds of medical doctors under a microscope.

Conversely, it seems like psychiatrists and psychologists have free reign to run wild when there are plenty of reasons for doubt. This could be a product of the vagueness in defining success and failure in the field.

As a society, we must start holding mental health therapists more accountable, especially when you go back to 2007. CDMRP funded $277 million into better managing PTSD. The result? There wasn’t any proof that showed a change in depression, the primary symptom of the disorder in question.

In fairness, this story displays ineffectiveness, not necessarily direct harm. But when you dig deep into some research, it’s made clear that therapy can actually be harmful.

A Lack of Research Hints at a Big-Picture Problem

Here, we’ll review a research paper that explores how some forms of psychotherapy can be harmful to a significant number of patients. See Scott O. Lilienfeld, Psychological Treatments that Cause Harm, Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2007 Mar; 2(1):53-70.

The first issue at hand, points out the author, is that – historically – there has been the absence of studies looking into treatments being harmful. Considering that psychologists make a pledge to “take reasonable steps to avoid harming their clients/patients,” the lack of research into this topic is quite alarming.

Psychologists are all people and are susceptible to mistakes. It would make sense for there to be more existent research, as a proactive measure, to ensure that treatments aren’t leading to adverse patient outcomes. And if therapy is causing harm, such research would be a way to amend those errors.

The lack of microscope being shined upon potentially harmful therapy is evident in “The Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Therapy.”

This “premier book on psychotherapy” only dedicates 2.5 of its 821 pages to the adverse effects of psychological treatments. This is the norm amongst published works in the field.

Not all therapy presents a risk for a negative result. Still, according to this research paper, there are distinctive treatments that could be more detrimental than others.

Potentially Harmful Treatments

“Psychological Treatments That Cause Harm” brings forth a multitude of potentially harmful therapies—too many to discuss in-depth during this one humble article.

Lets shed light on one specific treatment method called the Recovered Memory Techniques (RMT):

  • First and foremost, RMTs can be unreliable, yielding false memories of alien abductions and past-life child abuse.
  • It involves highly suggestive tactics such as hypnosis, guided imagery, and therapist-prompting of memories. These methods are all conducive to creating false memories.
  • Clients and their family members might suffer due to resurfaced memories, with data showing the potential for increased thoughts of suicide and chances for psychiatric hospitalization.

Here’s a list of other therapies that could cause harm, just so you can raise an eyebrow if they’re being administered to you or your loved ones:

  • Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD)
  • “Scared Straight” Programs
  • Facilitated Communication (FC)
  • Attachment Therapies
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)-Oriented Psychotherapy
  • Grief Counseling for Normal Bereavement
  • Expressive-Experiential Psychotherapies
  • Boot Camp Interventions for Conduct Disorder
  • Drug Abuse and Resistance Education (DARE) Programs
  • Peer-Group Interventions for Conduct Disorder
  • Relaxation Treatments for Panic-Prone Patients
How Do Recovered Memory Techniques Lead to False Child Abuse Allegations?

RMT leads to false allegations of child abuse because vulnerable adults or teenagers with ailing mental health can be coerced into believing false memories. Incredibly vivid imagery can be produced, making it likelier for these visions to be taken at face value.

Suddenly, the therapist has now convinced the client they’ve been abused. While the allegation is untrue, it’s not like the accuser is lying. Instead, they’ve been misguided.

The result? An innocent person, and potentially a family, have their entire life or lives torn apart. Because mental health professionals must report explicit “memories” of abuse to legal authorities.

Hold Mental Health Professionals Accountable

As a victim of false accusations, there’s no reason you should take a mental health professional’s word for it.

Yes, treatments such as memory retrieval can be both positive and accurate. However, there’s also a chance that it’s harmful to a patient and makes them inaccurately recall being abused as a child.

Therefore, it’s appropriate to scrutinize and thoroughly examine the credibility of any therapists that have helped conjure such an allegation.