Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has risen to prominence as an orthodox treatment option which is commonly recommended to patients with anxiety and depressive disorders. Mainstream healthcare institutions (including the National Health Service in the UK (NHS) and National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH)) assume that CBT works by helping patients to challenge and overcome ‘faulty cognition’. Even if we accept the empirical evidence which shows that CBT (like other forms of psychotherapy) is a beneficial treatment there are still problems with this therapy: mainstream medicine and psychotherapy are continuing to ignore established research that CBT does not work according to its core theoretical tenets. This paper presents evidence that psychotherapy is entrenched in such conventional ‘wisdom’ and that practitioners are failing to meet their own codified requirement of informed consent. I examine ethical arguments for and against upholding current informed consent procedures and focus, in particular, on the relationship between respect for patient autonomy and the duty of beneficence. I argue that (so far) there are no strong grounds for the claim that patient autonomy undermines therapeutic outcome. The modest conclusion of this paper is that psychotherapy (including CBT) needs to begin to adapt informed consent procedures to comply with ongoing scientific research into its efficacy.
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