The Psychotherapy Practice Research Network (PPRNet) blog began in 2013 in response to psychotherapy clinicians, researchers, and educators who expressed interest in receiving regular information about current practice-oriented psychotherapy research. It offers a monthly summary of two or three published psychotherapy research articles. Each summary is authored by Dr. Tasca and highlights practice implications of selected articles. Past blogs are available in the archives. This content is only available in English.
…I blog about transtheoretical principles of change, microaggressions and outcomes, interpretations and outcomes.
Type of Research
- ALL Topics (clear)
- Alliance and Therapeutic Relationship
- Anxiety Disorders
- Attendance, Attrition, and Drop-Out
- Client Factors
- Client Preferences
- Cognitive Therapy (CT) and Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- Combination Therapy
- Common Factors
- Depression and Depressive Symptoms
- Efficacy of Treatments
- Feedback and Progress Monitoring
- Group Psychotherapy
- Illness and Medical Comorbidities
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)
- Long-term Outcomes
- Neuroscience and Brain
- Outcomes and Deterioration
- Personality Disorders
- Placebo Effect
- Practice-Based Research and Practice Research Networks
- Psychodynamic Therapy (PDT)
- Resistance and Reactance
- Self-Reflection and Awareness
- Suicide and Crisis Intervention
- Therapist Factors
- Transference and Countertransference
- Trauma and/or PTSD
- Treatment Length and Frequency
Capacity to Mentalize Predicted Outcomes in Inpatient Therapy for Resistant Depression
Halstensen, K., Gjestad, R., Luyten, P., Wampold, B., Granqvist, P., Stålsett, G., & Johnson, S. U. (2021). Depression and mentalizing: A psychodynamic therapy process study. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 68(6), 705–718.
Mentalizing, or reflective functioning, refers to someone’s capacity to view themselves and others in terms of mental states (i.e., behaviors are interpreted in terms of feelings, wishes, desires, values, and goals). This capacity underlies skills like empathy, emotion regulation, and interpersonal functioning. Diminished mentalizing can aggravate depressed mood through negative biases in one’s perceptions of others and relationships and might prevent the reflection needed to regulate emotions. Individuals with mentalizing deficits might hypo mentalize so that they are very uncertain about the thoughts, feelings, or attitudes that underlie their own and others’ behaviors. Such individuals may experience apathy associated with depression. Others might hyper mentalize, that is they are too certain about what goes on in the minds of others, which means they may misinterpret or misunderstand the intentions and behaviors of others. Such individuals can experience chronic emptiness due to the lack of genuine connection with others. In this study, Halstensen and colleagues assessed if mentalizing predicted outcomes in 57 patients with treatment resistant depression who received inpatient therapy in Norway. This was a naturalistic study of intensive psychodynamic inpatient therapy. The average chronicity of depression was 11.7 years, all patients received previous unsuccessful psychological or medical treatment, and most had a comorbid diagnosis (e.g., panic disorder, social anxiety disorder). Measurements of mentalizing and depression were taken pre-treatment, during therapy, and up to one year post treatment. Depressive symptoms improved from pre-treatment to one year follow-up with a large effect (d = 1.47; α mean = −.09 per week, p = .001). The capacity to mentalize did not improve on average during that period, although there was a lot of individual variability in mentalizing scores. Interestingly, there was an increase in depressive symptoms at the outset of treatment that then declined significantly by post-treatment. Higher pre-treatment levels of mentalizing were associated with better depressive symptom outcomes (b = −16.80, p = .043), and those patients who improved their mentalizing capacity experienced stronger improvements in depressive symptoms.
Although all patients were severely and chronically depressed, their capacities to mentalize varied significantly (some had higher and others lower levels). Patients in this study who had a high initial level of mentalizing capacity profited most from the intensive therapy. They seemed to be able to engage in the emotional work associated with the initial phase of intensive inpatient treatment for depression. On the other hand, patients in this study who had low levels mentalizing skills were likely to be non-responsive to intensive treatment. Patients with limited mentalizing capacity may require more support and more work to help them develop the reflective capacities necessary to understand their own and others’ behaviors in terms mental states.
Identifying Outcomes for Depression That Matter to Patients
Chevance, A., Ravaud, P., Tomlinson, A., Le Berre, C., Teufer, B., … Tran, V.T. (2020). Identifying outcomes for depression that matter to patients, informal caregivers, and health-care professionals: Qualitative content analysis of a large international online survey. The Lancet Psychiatry, 7, 692-702.
One of the criticisms of mental health treatment research is that the outcomes measured in these studies are those that matter to researchers but may not matter as much to patients. Common outcome measures of depression like the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) or the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) were developed by researchers because of their relative ease of use, and their sensitivity to change following treatment. But these measures provide a narrow view of what it is like to experience depression because they focus only on a limited set of symptoms. But is symptom reduction the only thing that matters to patients and their loved ones? In this large-scale study by Chevance and colleagues, the authors surveyed over 1900 patients with a mood disorder, 464 informal caregivers (family members), and 627 health care providers from a wide range of mental health disciplines. The survey extended across dozens of countries and sampled a range of age groups. The authors asked patients open ended questions about what outcomes are important to them in the treatment of their depression, and then the responses were analyzed using a qualitative method. Chevance and colleagues identified two broad categories important to patients: symptoms and functioning. Regarding symptoms, patients identified several domains in which they wanted to experience improvements. These included: their perception of their self (e.g., self-esteem, self-confidence), physical symptoms (e.g., sleep, energy level), cognitive symptoms (e.g., social interest, cognitive distortions, motivation), emotional symptoms (e.g., mental pain, anxiety, sadness), and symptoms related to burden of suicidal thoughts. Regarding functioning, patients identified four domains in which they wished to see improvements. These included: elementary functioning (e.g., self-care, coping with daily tasks, autonomy), social functioning (e.g., social isolation, interpersonal relationships, family life), professional functioning (e.g., loss of job/studies, professional responsibilities), and complex functioning (e.g., coping with daily life, financial issues, personal growth).
Clearly, patients, their loved ones, and those who provide treatment have a much broader view than researchers of what constitutes important outcomes to their mental health treatment for depression. The two most common symptom outcomes identified by patients were psychic pain and the burden imposed by suicidal ideation, yet these rarely assessed as primary outcomes in psychotherapy studies. And outcomes like social functioning, family relationships, and personal growth are not primary outcomes, and often they are not assessed at all in research studies. Clinicians would do well to take a broader view of what is important to patients, and to keep in mind their patients wishes as they develop collaborative goals for treatment with patients. It may be useful not only to use standardized scales to aid in developing treatment plans, but also to ask patients what they hope to gain from therapy should the treatment be successful.
Mental Health Disorders Increase Health Care Utilization in Adults with Chronic Disease
Mental Health Disorders Increase Health Care Utilization in Adults with Chronic Disease
Sporinova B, Manns B, Tonelli M, et al. (2019). Association of mental health disorders with health care utilization and costs among adults with chronic cisease. JAMA Network Open. Published online: 2(8):e199910. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.9910
Chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic kidney disease are common and represent a major burden on the individual and on society. So much so that chronic diseases represent about 60% of global disease burden. There is also a documented association between mental and physical health, such that mortality in cancer, diabetes, and following a heart attack is significantly higher in those with depression. The cost of chronic disease to the Canadian economy represents about 60% of the annual health care budget, and depression alone has a $32.3 billion impact on the Canadian economy. In this economic study, Sporinova and colleagues sought to quantify the impact of having a mental disorder on health care utilization and cost for those with chronic diseases. The study used a large data base of adults from Alberta, Canada who had at least one chronic disease including asthma, COPD, heart failure, myocardial infarction, diabetes, epilepsy, and chronic kidney disease. Mental disorders were defined as a concurrent diagnosis of depression, schizophrenia, or substance use disorder. Factors like sex, income, and rural residency were controlled in the analyses. Of the cohort with a chronic illness, 15.8% had a mental disorder, with depression as the most common mental disorder at 11.2%. People with chronic illness and a mental disorder tended to be younger, women, with a lower socio-economic status, and they tended to die at a higher rate during the study period. The mean total 3-year health costs of those with a chronic illness was $20,210 (95% CI: $19,674, $20,750) Canadian dollars, whereas for those with a concurrent mental disorder the cost was significantly higher at $38,250 (95% CI: $36,476, $39,935). Higher costs were driven by greater hospitalizations, prescription drug use, and physician visits. Costs were higher for older people, and for those with more than one mental disorder.
The results clearly indicated that an important proportion of those with chronic illnesses were also diagnosed with a mental disorder. Further, a diagnosis of a mental disorder drove up the burden of the chronic illness significantly, both for the individual and for the health care system. Past research indicated improved medical outcomes when treating depression in medical patients. And so, although the physical symptoms of chronic illness may appear prominent, clinicians must treat mental health problems when they exist concurrently, if they want to improve patient medical and mental health outcomes.
Dynamic-Interpersonal Therapy for Moderate to Severe Depression
Fonagy, P., Lemma, A., Target, M., O'Keeffe, S., Constantinou, M., Ventura Wurman, T., . . . Pilling, S. (2019). Dynamic interpersonal therapy for moderate to severe depression: A pilot randomized controlled and feasibility trial. Psychological Medicine, 1-10. Online first publication. doi:10.1017/S0033291719000928
Most psychotherapies are equally effective when it comes to treating depression. However, no single therapy is uniformly effective, so that about 50% of patients might improve when it comes to symptom reduction. So, although there is a large evidence base for treatments like CBT, therapists and patients need access to a range of available treatments. There is less research on psychodynamic therapies, although a number of trials and meta-analyses indicate their effectiveness to treat depression. In the United Kingdom (UK), the health system may offer a stepped care program that provides patients with low intensity guided self-help based on a CBT model followed by more intensive treatment with CBT or IPT if patients did not benefit from self-help. The UK health system rarely offers Dynamic Interpersonal Therapy (DIT), and DIT has never been studied in a randomized controlled trial within the UK health system. Fonagy and colleagues designed this randomized controlled trial to test the efficacy of DIT when compared to the CBT-oriented self-help program as offered in the UK. The study also included a smaller randomized sample of those who received the intensive version of CBT for depression. In total, 147 participants with moderate to severe depression were randomly assigned to DIT, CBT guided self-help, or the intensive version of CBT. The DIT is informed by attachment theory and by mentalization theory, and it views depressive symptoms as responses to interpersonal difficulties or perceived attachment threats. The results of the trial showed a significantly greater effect of DIT compared to guided self-help with regard to depressive symptoms, overall symptom severity, social functioning, and quality of life at post-treatment. The patients receiving DIT maintained these gains up to 1-year post-treatment. Over half of DIT patients showed clinically significant improvements, but only 9% who received the CBT-based guided self-help achieved such improvement. There were no significant differences on any of the outcomes between DIT and the more intensive version of CBT.
One of the benefits of DIT, according to the authors, is that it offers a treatment manual and curriculum that enables those without a lot of background in psychodynamic therapies to deliver it. This makes DIT potentially widely-applicable in publicly funded health systems like in the UK, Canada, and others. DIT may offer yet another effective option of psychotherapy to therapists and their patients who experience depressive symptoms. The study also points to the limits of offering only guided self-help to those with moderate to severe depression.
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CBT or Generic Counselling for Treating Depression
Pybis, J., Saxon, D., Hill, A., & Barkham, M. (2017). The comparative effectiveness and efficiency of cognitive behaviour therapy and generic counselling in the treatment of depression: Evidence from the 2nd UK National Audit of psychological therapies. BMC Psychiatry, 17, 215. DOI 10.1186/s12888-017-1370-7
Over a decade ago the United Kingdom (UK) invested large sums of public dollars to fund the Increasing Access to Psychotherapy (IAPT) program. In IAPT, most patients receive cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as first-line treatment for depression or anxiety, and may receive generic counseling as second line treatment. One of the admirable aspects of IAPT is that the program consistently assesses outcomes, makes its data available for analyses, and publishes yearly reports on their outcomes. In this very large study, Pybis and colleagues assess whether CBT and generic counseling have different outcomes for patients with depression or anxiety. Over 33,000 patients who received treatment at one of 103 sites were in the study. Most patients (about 23,000) receiving CBT, and the others (about 10,000) receiving generic counseling. Two-thirds of the patients were female, most (84%) were white British, and the mean age was 41 (SD = 13.86). CBT focused on changing negative thoughts and behaviors in order to improve depressive symptoms. Generic counselling was harder to define, though the authors described these therapists as practicing in an integrative manner by bringing skills from training in different forms of psychotherapy. Generic counseling therapists did not focus on giving advice or opinions, but rather on helping clients understand themselves better. Pre- to post-treatment effect sizes for CBT (0.94 [0.92, 0.95]) and generic counseling (0.95 [0.92, 0.98]) were equivalent for depression outcomes. In CBT 50.4% of patients reliably improved, whereas 49.6% reliably improved if they received generic counseling. The average number of sessions attended by patients in the two treatments (CBT = 8.9 [6.34]; counseling = 7.5 [5.54]) were also equivalent. However, there were significant site effects. That is, a moderate and significant amount of patient outcomes (15%) could be accounted for by the site at which they received treatment (i.e., some sites or clinics had better outcomes than others).
Generic counseling as provided in the IAPT in the UK was as effective as structured CBT for reducing symptoms of depression. However, almost half of patients did not improve in either treatment. Generic counseling was likely a label used to describe integrative psychotherapy that followed principles from a variety of psychotherapies that were based on psychological principles. There were much larger site/clinic effects than treatment modality effects, so that clients in some clinics had better than clients who received treatment in other clinics. This is consistent with research on therapist effects that show that some therapists are more effective than others, regardless of their orientation. This research suggests that training therapists to be more effective by improving their facilitative interpersonal skills may yield better outcomes for clients.
Cost-effectiveness of Short-term Versus Long-term Psychotherapy
Maljanen, T., Knekt, P., Lindfors, O., Virtala, E., Tillman, P., et al. (2016). The cost-effectiveness of short-term and long-term psychotherapy in the treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders during a 5-year follow-up. Journal of Affective Disorders, 190, 254-263.
There is substantial evidence that short-term psychotherapy is effective for depressive and anxiety disorders, including at follow-up. There are also a few meta-analyses showing the effectiveness of longer term therapy. Although there is research indicating the cost-effectiveness of short-term treatments, less research has evaluated the cost-effectiveness of longer term therapy, and even less research at long term follow-ups. In this study from the Helsinki Psychotherapy Study Group, the authors evaluated the cost-effectiveness of short-term therapy (solution-focused therapy [12 sessions] or short-term dynamic therapy [20 sessions]) versus long term dynamic psychotherapy (2-3 sessions weekly for up to 3 years). Participants (N = 326) with anxiety or mood disorders were randomized to one of the three therapies. Symptoms and work ability were assessed at pre-treatment, post-treatment, and several times during a 5 year follow-up period. A previous publication with this sample showed that long-term treatment resulted in greater recovery with regard to symptoms and work ability (recovery for both outcomes exceeding 60%) compared to short-term treatment (50% recovered). For this study the authors asked: is long-term treatment cost-effective – in other words, is the better outcome from long-term treatment justified by greater cost? Both direct costs (health care utilization) and indirect costs (lost productivity) were calculated in this study using standard econometrics. Long-term therapy cost 3 times as much as short-term treatments. This amount was smaller than expected because those who received short-term treatments had higher auxiliary costs (i.e., the need for other treatments after the short term therapy ended). Shorter therapies were equally cost-effective, but both were more cost-effective than the longer treatment. That is, despite being more effective and requiring less auxiliary treatment, the longer-term therapy was more costly per unit of improvement with regard to symptoms and productivity compared to the shorter treatments.
From an economic point of view, short-term treatments make the most sense. However, given that many patients needed other treatments after the end of short-term therapy, and given that on average the longer-term therapy was more effective in the long run, a clinician may want to weigh the economics with the specific needs and preferences of each patient.