How to Combat Treatment Dropouts

By: Dr. Cheri Shapiro

One common barrier to treatment for a variety of social, emotional, and behavioral challenges is that many people start treatment, but often too many do not finish.  A recent study found that about 20% of people who start treatment for challenges like depression or anxiety end treatment before it is over.  For children and adolescents, the average number of sessions attended in outpatient settings is about four.

Why does this happen? People stop treatment for a variety of reasons including: cost, location, service schedule, transportation, and length of treatment.  How families and service providers work together can also make a difference.  The types of treatments used also can be a factor in whether youth and families stay in treatment.

One important recent development are changes in treatment models, with a focus on brief treatments. When it comes to changing behavior, science shows us that more is not always better.  Single session interventions are often enough to have a positive impact on the behavior of children and adolescents.

So, what can we do?  If you are a provider, fully informing clients about what they can expect before treatment starts is important. If you are a youth or a family member seeking services, ask a lot of questions. Be as open as you can with your treatment provider about any doubts or concerns, or about things that could interfere with treatment If you are a behavioral health organization leader or policy maker, use brief interventions to serve more families, and save more intensive interventions for only those that need it, or want it, most.

Most importantly, even the best evidence-based treatments will not be effective if they are not delivered.

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