Premature Dropout From Psychotherapy: Prevalence, Perceived Reasons and Consequences as Rated by Clinicians


  • Niclas Kullgard Orcid
  • Rolf Holmqvist Orcid
  • Gerhard Andersson Orcid


Background: Why clients discontinue their psychotherapies has attracted more attention recently as it is a major problem for many healthcare services. Studies suggest that dropout rates may be affected by the mode of therapy, low-quality therapeutic alliance, low SES, and by conditions such personality disorders or substance abuse. The aims of the study were to investigate what happens in therapies which end in a dropout, and to estimate how common dropout is as reported by practicing clinicians.

Method: An online questionnaire was developed and completed by 116 therapists working in clinical settings. They were recruited via social media (Facebook and different online psychotherapy groups) in Sweden and worked with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Psychodynamic Therapy (PDT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) and Integrative Psychotherapy (IP).

Results: Psychotherapists rated the frequency of premature dropout in psychotherapy to be on average 8.89% (MD = 5, SD = 8.34, Range = 0-50%). The most common reasons for a dropout, as stated by the therapists, were that clients were not satisfied with the type of intervention offered, or that clients did not benefit from the treatment as they had expected. The most common feeling following a dropout was self-doubt.

Conclusion: In conclusion, premature dropout is common in clinical practice and has negative emotional consequences for therapists. Premature dropout may lead to feelings of self-doubt and powerlessness among therapists. The therapeutic alliance was mostly rated as good in dropout therapies. Further research is needed to validate the findings with data on the prevalence and subjective reasons behind a dropout from point of view of clients.