Swift, J.K., Greenberg, R.P., Tompkins, K.A., & Parkin, S.R. (2017). Treatment refusal and premature termination in psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, and their combination: A meta-analysis of head-to-head comparisons. Psychotherapy, 54, 47-57.
Treatment refusal occurs when a patient is offered an intervention but then fails to begin it. In treatment studies, this may occur when a patient initially agrees to participate in a trial but then discontinues immediately after finding out what intervention they will receive. In a clinic setting, a patient might call a mental health professional to schedule an initial appointment but not show up. This causes problems for the patient who is not receiving treatment, and for the professional who has an unfilled therapy hour. Premature termination, on the other hand occurs when a patient begins treatment but ends unilaterally against the provider’s recommendations and prior to recovery. Again, these patients typically do not improve and they do not receive an adequate dose of the treatment. Barriers to accepting or completing psychotherapy might include the cost, and the time and effort involved to engage in the therapeutic process. Barriers to accepting or completing pharmacotherapy might also include cost, unpleasant side effects, and fewer contacts with a non-judgemental listening professional. The aim of Swift and colleagues’ meta-analysis was to compare rates of treatment refusal and premature termination between psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy. The meta-analysis included 186 studies, 57 of which (with 6,693 participants) reported data on treatment refusal. A significant number of patients (8.2%; 95% CI: 7.0, 9.6%) failed to start treatment after they were told what treatment they would receive. Participants were 1.76 times more likely (95% CI: 1.27, 2.45) to refuse treatment if they were offered pharmacotherapy compared to psychotherapy. The average premature termination rate from treatment was 21.9% (95% CI: 20.6%, 23.3%). Patients assigned to pharmacotherapy were 1.2 times more likely (95% CI: 1.03, 1.41) than those who were assigned to psychotherapy to discontinue treatment prematurely.
Participants were almost 2 times more likely to refuse treatment if they were offered pharmacotherapy compared to psychotherapy, especially for social anxiety disorder, depression, and panic disorder. Similarly, premature termination was higher for pharmacotherapy compared to psychotherapy, especially for eating disorders and depressive disorders. Previous research indicated that patients are 3 times more likely to prefer psychotherapy over medications for mental disorders. Research indicates that mental health professionals should work to incorporate patient preferences, values, and beliefs when making treatment decisions in order to reduce premature termination and treatment refusal.