Because of the nature of their profession, it is expected that psychotherapists benefit from being positive people. However, is it possible for a therapist to be too positive? Apparently so. New research by Parker and Waller (2015) suggests that therapists overestimate the extent to which their clients benefit from therapy, especially if they are overly positive overestimate. In a survey of therapists from the UK, most therapists rated themselves as being more skilled than at least 65% of their peers. Because this study involves a comparison to peers, on average most therapists should not rate themselves higher than all other. Other biases suggesting that psychotherapists can be overconfident were also evident in this study. For example, on average, clinicians rated that at least 80% of the cases they see experience improvement, a figure that is not consistent with the percentage of people who actually experience change in psychotherapy. The authors of the study posit that an overly positive personality style may render clinicians likely to over-predict how skilled they are and how many of their patients improve. This is not the first study to suggest that psychotherapists can be over-optimistic about how much clients benefit from therapy. For example, in a study by Walfish and colleagues (2012), the average skill rating clinicians in a U.S. sample gave themselves was 80% and not one rated him or herself as being below average. Interestingly enough, the biases seen in Parker and Waller’s study of UK therapists was lesser than the bias observer by Walfish and colleagues in the study of US clinicians. This suggests that there may be cultural differences in the overestimation of performance. However, a tendency to overestimate performance is not unique to psychotherapists. Indeed, most individuals believe they are above average in their profession. This has been called the “self-assessment bias.” What the current findings suggest is that psychotherapists are not immune to this bias. To address this, the authors of the study end their article with a call to objectively track the outcomes of patients.
Thats only human: Why should we rate our professional skills worse than our car driving skills? Isn't it a sign of good mental health? Only depressive people rate themselves below average. I guess that depressed therapists can do more harm to their clients than those suffering from the usual moderate mania.
Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR)
Marna S. Barrett, Ph.D.
Mood & Anxiety Disorders Treatment Research Unit
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine
3535 Market St., Suite 670
Philadelphia, PA 19104