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Psychotherapy Can Make Some People Feel Worse, Study Finds

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Psychotherapy can be a vital and even life-saving treatment for people experiencing mental health issues, but it’s not always a pleasant experience. A new study in the British Journal of Psychiatry quantifies the small part of the population who actively feel worse after therapy. About one in 20 people surveyed felt lasting negative effects from psychotherapy, the study found.

UK-based researchers led by Mike Crawford of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Centre for Quality Improvement surveyed adult patients from 220 English therapy clinics. Out of more than 14,000 respondents—most of whom received cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, or some other kind of psychological treatment—more than 5 percent said that therapy resulted in lasting negative effects.

Minorities (both ethnic minorities and sexual minorities, including those who identify as LGBT) were more likely to report that therapy had been a negative influence. And younger people were more likely to have had a bad therapy experience that stuck with them than those over 65.

While the survey didn’t specifically ask what kind of negative effects therapy had, the researchers write that subsequent interviews of those respondents indicate that therapy can cause “exacerbations of existing symptoms and emergence of new ones including anxiety, anger and loss of self-esteem.”

It’s not terribly surprising that the mental health system doesn’t serve minorities as well as it should. Therapists have the same potential for bias as the rest of us, especially if they aren’t particularly well-educated on the issues facing minority patients. A prime example: As late as 2013, the American Psychiatric Association had to apologize for listing pedophilia as a sexual orientation [PDF]. The same organization has been criticized for its unwillingness to recognize that a lifetime of experiencing racism can contribute to PTSD.

The researchers behind the study suggest that the findings might encourage more consideration of "cultural competence" in the mental health field. 

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

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More Evidence to Suggest That Your Insomnia Is Genetic
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In 2016, a study on mice found that certain sleep traits, like insomnia, have genetic underpinnings. Several studies of human twins have also suggested that insomnia can be an inherited trait. Now, new research published in Molecular Psychiatry not only reinforces that finding, but also suggests that there may be a genetic link between insomnia and some other psychiatric and physical disorders, like depression and type 2 diabetes, as Psych Central alerts us.

Insomnia is particularly prevalent in populations of military veterans. For this study, researchers at VA San Diego Healthcare System analyzed questionnaire responses and blood samples from almost 33,000 new soldiers at the beginning of basic training, along with pre- and post-deployment surveys from nearly 8000 soldiers deployed to Afghanistan starting in early 2012. They conducted genome-wide association tests to determine the heritability of insomnia and links between insomnia and other disorders. The results were adjusted for the presence of major depression (since insomnia is a common symptom of depression).

The genotype data showed that insomnia disorder was highly heritable and pinpointed potential genes that may be involved. The study indicated that there's a strong genetic correlation between insomnia and major depression. (The two were distinct, though, meaning that the insomnia couldn't be totally explained by the depression.) They also found a significant genetic correlation between insomnia and type 2 diabetes.

Because the study relied on data from the U.S. military, the study doesn't have the most far-reaching sample—it was largely male and wasn't as racially diverse as it could have been. (While it analyzed responses from recruits from European, African, and Latino ancestry, there weren't enough Asian-American participants to analyze as a group.) The responses were also self-reported, which isn't always the most accurate data-collection method.

The genes indicated by this study could be used to develop new treatments for insomnia, but future studies will likely need to explore these questions within broader populations.

[h/t Psych Central]

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What Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Dissociative Identity Disorder
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From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

Experts often disagree about DID's diagnostic criteria, what causes it, and in some cases, whether it exists at all. Many, however, agree that people with DID don't have multiple figures living inside their heads, all clamoring to take over their body at a moment's notice. Those with DID do have fragmented personalities, which can cause lapses of memory, psychological distress, and impaired daily function, among other side effects.

Learn more about DID (and what the media gets wrong about mental illness) by watching the video below.

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