New Brightside Health research suggests favorable perception of psychotherapy, while misconceptions of time, cost persist

A new study published in the journal JMIR Formative Research details consumer expectations and attitudes about psychotherapy as uncovered during a 2021 survey. The results suggest generally positive consumer perceptions, as well as common misconceptions that may inform the development of public education campaigns. 

What we found 

In this study, the research team examined data from a survey of 714 people, including Brightside Health members (51.5%) and the general public (48.5%). The majority (71%) of respondents were receiving mental health treatment at the time of the survey, and 78% of respondents reported either preferring online therapy versus in-person treatment or having no preference.  

The research also uncovered barriers and misconceptions regarding treatment. For example, when asked “how long do you expect to be in therapy?” the majority of respondents perceived lengthy treatment cycles. The most commonly endorsed duration was ‘indefinitely’ (35%), followed by ‘six to 12 months’ (14.2%). Very few (8.1%) thought therapy typically lasts one to three months. 

Respondents also reported a perception that psychotherapy was costly and difficult to find. For those currently in treatment (71%), the majority (67.5%) were using only pharmacotherapy, a minority (7.9%) were engaged only in psychotherapy, and 24.6% were engaged in both psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy. For those strictly engaged in pharmacotherapy, the majority (76%) would definitely consider psychotherapy, but it was perceived as too costly and/or difficult to find the right therapist, followed by taking too much time. 

In general, those surveyed reported favorable perceptions of both psychotherapy and psychiatric medication. 

The survey also explored how respondents chose their therapist. In response to a question about factors to consider when assessing therapist compatibility, the most frequently endorsed factors within the entire sample were: personal connection (67.7%), areas of expertise (62.7%), their commitment to me getting better (55%), type of therapist (52.7%), and warmth (50.3%). Cost was endorsed by 44.2%, whether they take insurance was endorsed by 46.2%, and expertise with evidence-based therapies was endorsed by 35.9% of the whole sample.

Why this matters

Though one in five U.S. adults suffered from mental illness in 2020 alone, estimates suggest that only half of people who need mental health services receive them. We must improve our understanding of barriers to care, yet few surveys have sought patient input as consumers of therapy services. Our research suggests consumer perceptions may be one of those barriers to care. 

To our knowledge, there are no surveys of consumer preferences from an existing and/or potential purely telehealth-utilizing sample. This study meaningfully adds to the literature by investigating perceptions of psychotherapy of both the general public and patients receiving telehealth. The results suggest generally favorable perceptions, as well as gaps in public education that can more effectively be addressed – such as awareness of the typical duration, as treatment can be effective in as little as a few sessions . Practitioners and those marketing their services might consider debunking some of these falsely held beliefs in their marketing campaigns.

Our team will continue to explore barriers to receiving care through peer-reviewed research. For now, this latest research is available in the open-access journal JMIR Formative Research, found here

Additional published studies from Brightside Health:

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