Termination, Appointment Use, and Outcome Patterns Associated With Intake Therapist Discontinuity

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Abstract

Psychotherapy clients often experience intake therapist discontinuity: meeting first with an intake therapist, then entering therapy with a different treating therapist. The authors compared such discontinuity clients at a university's counseling center (55.6% of 15,137 clients) with continuity clients, who continued therapy with their intake therapists. Discontinuity clients were twice as likely as continuity clients to terminate by missing the appointment after intake. Improvement among discontinuity clients lagged behind improvement among continuity clients at Sessions 2 and 3. Though more likely to terminate by missing Session 2, discontinuity clients attended 2 sessions more than continuity clients, on average, making treatment of discontinuity clients 19% more expensive than treatment of continuity clients in terms of sessions attended. The extra sessions attended by discontinuity clients did not yield overall better outcomes. Intake therapist discontinuity appeared to disrupt the beginning of psychotherapy, dissuading some clients from returning after intake, slowing early improvement among those who did return, and unproductively lengthening their treatment.

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