Patient perspectives on working with preferences in psychotherapy: A consensual qualitative research study

Mick Cooper, Gina Di Malta, Sarah Knox, Hanne Weie Oddli, Joshua K. Swift

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Assessing and accommodating patient preferences is integral to evidence-based practice. This qualitative study sought to explore patient perspectives and experiences of preference work in psychotherapy.

Participants were 13 UK-based patients who had completed up to 24 sessions of a collaborative–integrative psychotherapy. Ten participants identified as female and three as male. Interviews were conducted at endpoint and analyzed using a team-based, consensual qualitative research approach.

Three superordinate domains were developed: Preferences Themselves, Process of Working with Preferences in Psychotherapy, and Effect of Preference Work (or its Absence). Patients typically wanted leadership, challenge, and input from their psychotherapist, and an affirming style. Patients attributed the origin of their preferences to personal history, characteristics, or circumstances; the present psychotherapy; or past episodes of psychotherapy. Some preferences changed over time. Preference work was described as having positive effects on the therapeutic relationship and patients’ intrapersonal worlds; however, variantly, non-accommodation of preferences was also experienced as beneficial.

Our findings provide in-depth answers to a range of novel questions on preference work—potential mechanisms by which preference work impacts outcomes, factors that may facilitate preference work, and origins of preferences—as well as nuancing previously-established quantitative findings. Implications for clinical training and practice are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychotherapy Research
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2023


  • Patient preferences
  • aptitude-treatment interaction research
  • alliance
  • process research
  • consensual qualitative research

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