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Rethinking Progress: Why Measuring Change In Mental Health Treatment Can Be Misleading


Mental health clinicians have long been asked to measure the change in their patients to demonstrate treatment progress. This is typically accomplished through standardized testing, such as the MMSE (Mini-Mental Status Exam). However, recent research has called into question the usefulness of such measures. This article will explore why measuring the change in mental health treatment can be misleading and present an alternative way of thinking about progress.

Why is measuring progress in mental health treatment important?

Measuring progress in mental health treatment is essential because it allows treatment providers to objectively assess the impact of their interventions and determine whether more intensive or different treatments are necessary. It also allows for tracking individual patients’ progress over time and provides a benchmark to gauge the effectiveness of various interventions. These measurements can also inform decisions about the appropriateness of treatments or other factors affecting mental health outcomes.

Furthermore, measuring progress can help to identify patterns of change. Identifying these patterns can help clinicians to assess their practice and develop more efficient and effective treatment plans. It can also help to pinpoint areas where further research is needed and can be used to assess the impact of various treatments. However, measuring the change in mental health treatment can be challenging and lead to inaccurate results. It is essential to understand the limitations of these measurements to make accurate assessments of progress.

What factors can distort measures of progress in mental health treatment?

Several factors can distort measurements of progress in mental health treatment. The first is the timing of assessments. Often, assessments are performed at regular intervals, such as monthly or quarterly, instead of on an as-needed basis. This could lead to discrepancies in the results, as the patient may have had an event or a change in circumstances that impacted the evaluation results. Another factor is the use of the same assessment tool for all patients.

This can result in oversimplified evaluation results, as each patient may have a different set of issues that require different interventions and assessments. It can also lead to a lack of individualized care, as patients are not receiving tailored treatment plans based on their needs. Finally, the effects of mental health treatments can be challenging to measure, as they involve physical and psychological changes. It is easy to measure some physical changes, such as weight loss or muscle gains, but psychological changes can be more nebulous and difficult to measure accurately.

How can we get a more accurate measure of progress in mental health treatment?

To get a more accurate assessment of progress in mental health treatment, clinicians should eschew the use of standardized tests and embrace more personalized forms of evaluation. For example, treatment plans can be tailored to individual patient needs, and personalized assessments can be used to track progress. In addition, a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment and evaluation should be adopted. This may include psychometric tests, interviews, and other tools to assess a patient’s physical and psychological changes. It can also involve using different modalities, such as art, music, or movement therapy, to help patients identify and express feelings or changes.

By combining these methods, the clinician can better understand the impact of mental health treatments and more accurately assess change and progress. Measuring change and progress in mental health treatment is an important yet often challenging endeavor. Standardized assessments and tests can help provide a baseline measure of an individual’s mental health, but they can also be misleading. To get a more accurate measure of change and progress, clinicians should employ a personalized approach that includes multiple assessments and modalities. This helps ensure that changes are accurately tracked, and interventions are tailored to meet individual patient needs. By doing so, mental health care can be more effective, efficient, and personalized.


Psychotherapy outcome research has primarily relied on pre-to-post-change measures to evaluate clinical progress. However, this approach may be limited in its ability to accurately detect treatment-related changes, leading to potentially false conclusions about a treatment’s effectiveness. Newer methods, such as using placebo controls and multi-method assessments, may provide a more accurate picture of clinical progress. However, more research is needed to explore these measures.

In conclusion, it is essential to be critical when evaluating research on mental health treatment progress. The current measures for progress can be misleading and may lead to false assumptions about effective treatments. To continue progressing in mental health, we must invest in research to develop new measures that better assess clinical progress.

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