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Psychotherapy is still failing patients: revisiting informed consent—a response to Garson Leder


Compared with mainstream medicine and complementary and alternative therapies, the practice of psychotherapy has enjoyed a relative pass when it comes to ethical evaluation. Therefore, contributions to the, although slowly growing, body of literature on psychotherapy ethics are to be welcomed. In his paper ‘Psychotherapy, placebos, and informed consent’, Garson Leder takes issue with what he calls the ‘go open’ project in psychotherapy ethics—the idea that the so-called ‘common factors’ in therapy should be disclosed to prospective patients. Although Leder does not give a detailed list, the common factors include therapist characteristics (empathy, positive regard, positive expectations that therapy will succeed), patient characteristics (expectations about therapy including its plausibility, confidence in the therapist), and the working alliance (how well both therapist and patient work well together during sessions). He argues that the project advocating disclosure of these factors is flawed on two grounds: (1) that information about common factors is not necessary for informed consent; and (2) clarity about specific mechanisms of change in therapy is consistent with ‘many theory-specific forms of psychotherapy’. There are multiple serious problems with Leder’s critique of the recent literature, including how he represents the contours of the debate, which I list, and address in this response.

  • psychotherapy
  • applied and professional ethics
  • informed consent
  • psychiatry
  • clinical ethics

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