High drop-out rates

Researchers have found that CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) studies have high drop-out rates compared to other treatments. At times, the CBT drop-out rates can be more than five times higher than other treatments groups. For example, the researchers provided statistics of 28 participants in a group receiving CBT therapy dropping out, compared to 5 participants in a group receiving problem-solving therapy dropping out, or 11 participants in a group receiving psychodynamic therapy dropping out.  This high drop-out rate is also evident in the treatment of several disorders, particularly the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, which is commonly treated with CBT. Those treated with CBT have a high chance of dropping out of therapy before completion and reverting to their anorexia behaviors.

Other researchers conducting an analysis of treatments for youths who self-injure found similar drop-out rates in CBT and DBT groups. In this study, the researchers analyzed several clinical trials that measured the efficacy of CBT administered to youths who self-injure. The researchers concluded that none of them were found to be efficacious. These conclusions were made using the APA Division 12 Task Force on the Promotion and Dissemination of Psychological Procedures to determine intervention potency.

Philosophical concerns with CBT methods

The methods employed in CBT research have not been the only criticisms; some individuals have called its theory and therapy into question. For example, Fancher argues that CBT has failed to provide a framework for clear and correct thinking. He states that it is strange for CBT theorists to develop a framework for determining distorted thinking without ever developing a framework for “cognitive clarity” or what would count as “healthy, normal thinking.” Additionally, he writes that irrational thinking cannot be a source of mental and emotional distress when there is no evidence of rational thinking causing psychological well-being. Or, that social psychology has proven the normal cognitive processes of the average person to be irrational, even those who are psychologically well. Fancher also says that the theory of CBT is inconsistent with basic principles and research of rationality, and even ignores many rules of logic. He argues that CBT makes something of thinking that is far less exciting and true than thinking probably is. Among his other arguments are the maintaining of the status quo promoted in CBT, the self-deception encouraged within clients and patients engaged in CBT, how poorly the research is conducted, and some of its basic tenets and norms: “The basic norm of cognitive therapy is this: except for how the patient thinks, everything is ok”.

Meanwhile, Slife and Williams write that one of the hidden assumptions in CBT is that of determinism, or the absence of free will. They argue that CBT invokes a type of cause-and-effect relationship with cognition. They state that CBT holds that external stimuli from the environment enter the mind, causing different thoughts that cause emotional states. Nowhere in CBT theory is agency, or free will, accounted for. At its most basic foundational assumptions, CBT holds that human beings have no free will and are just determined by the cognitive processes invoked by external stimuli.

Another criticism of CBT theory, especially as applied to Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), is that it confounds the symptoms of the disorder with its causes.