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
Client Preferences Affect Psychotherapy Outcomes
Swift, J. K., Callahan, J. L., Cooper, M., & Parkin, S. R. (2018). The impact of accommodating client preference in psychotherapy: A meta‐analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 74(11), 1924-1937.
Here is another in a series of meta analyses looking at client factors that predict psychotherapy outcomes. In 2006 the American Psychological Association defined evidence-based practice in psychology as composed of 3 pillars: (1) the integration of the best available research combined with (2) clinical expertise in the context of (3) client characteristics including client preferences. Client preferences can be grouped into three broad categories. First, activity preferences refer to activities that a client hopes they and their therapists will engage in during treatment. For example, some clients may prefer homework between sessions, or therapists who interpret, or may prefer a type of therapy modality like group, couple, or individual treatment. Second, treatment preferences include client’s wishes for certain types of therapy approach like CBT, psychodynamic, interpersonal psychotherapy, peer-support, or others. Third, therapist preferences include a client’s desire for the type of therapist with which they would like to work. This might include preferences based on demographics, therapist personality, interpersonal style, culture, and so on. Studies that measure the impact of clients receiving their preferences may simply ask clients what they prefer, or might use a questionnaire of preferences. Some research found that clients are willing to give-up up to 40% in the treatment’s efficacy in order to ensure that they worked with a therapist with whom they would have a good relationship. In this meta-analysis, Swift and colleagues reviewed 53 studies that examined the association between client preferences and psychotherapy outcomes. In 28 studies that included data from 3,237 clients, the overall effect of client preference on psychotherapy drop out was statistically significant, such that clients who were not matched or not given a choice of treatment preference were 1.79 times more likely to drop out compared to those who did get their preference (95% CI: 1.44, 2.22; p < .001). In 53 studies of over 16,000 clients, the overall effect of clients receiving their preference on outcomes was also statistically significant (d = 0.28, 95% CI [0.17, 0.38], p < .001). Receiving a preferred treatment or therapist was associated with better client outcomes.
The results of this body of research suggests that therapists will do well to attempt to accommodate client preferences in psychotherapy, unless they are impractical, or therapeutically or ethically counter-indicated. One can ask clients about their preferences for activities of therapy, therapist style and characteristics, and treatment type. Some of these decisions may require clients to be educated about their options, and so agencies may consider adopting decision aids. At the very least therapists should initiate a discussion with clients about what the client wants and what they can reasonably expect to receive. These discussions may occur at the beginning of treatment and revisited part way through as well. Therapists may also consider using more structured valid assessments of client preferences to help with this task.
Author email: Joshua.Keith.Swift@gmail.com
Patients are More Likely to Refuse and Drop Out of Pharmacotherapy Than Psychotherapy
Swift, J.K., Greenberg, R.P., Tompkins, K.A., & Parkin, S.R. (2017). Treatment refusal and premature termination in psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, and their combination: A meta-analysis of head-to-head comparisons. Psychotherapy, 54, 47-57.
Treatment refusal occurs when a patient is offered an intervention but then fails to begin it. In treatment studies, this may occur when a patient initially agrees to participate in a trial but then discontinues immediately after finding out what intervention they will receive. In a clinic setting, a patient might call a mental health professional to schedule an initial appointment but not show up. This causes problems for the patient who is not receiving treatment, and for the professional who has an unfilled therapy hour. Premature termination, on the other hand occurs when a patient begins treatment but ends unilaterally against the provider’s recommendations and prior to recovery. Again, these patients typically do not improve and they do not receive an adequate dose of the treatment. Barriers to accepting or completing psychotherapy might include the cost, and the time and effort involved to engage in the therapeutic process. Barriers to accepting or completing pharmacotherapy might also include cost, unpleasant side effects, and fewer contacts with a non-judgemental listening professional. The aim of Swift and colleagues’ meta-analysis was to compare rates of treatment refusal and premature termination between psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy. The meta-analysis included 186 studies, 57 of which (with 6,693 participants) reported data on treatment refusal. A significant number of patients (8.2%; 95% CI: 7.0, 9.6%) failed to start treatment after they were told what treatment they would receive. Participants were 1.76 times more likely (95% CI: 1.27, 2.45) to refuse treatment if they were offered pharmacotherapy compared to psychotherapy. The average premature termination rate from treatment was 21.9% (95% CI: 20.6%, 23.3%). Patients assigned to pharmacotherapy were 1.2 times more likely (95% CI: 1.03, 1.41) than those who were assigned to psychotherapy to discontinue treatment prematurely.
Participants were almost 2 times more likely to refuse treatment if they were offered pharmacotherapy compared to psychotherapy, especially for social anxiety disorder, depression, and panic disorder. Similarly, premature termination was higher for pharmacotherapy compared to psychotherapy, especially for eating disorders and depressive disorders. Previous research indicated that patients are 3 times more likely to prefer psychotherapy over medications for mental disorders. Research indicates that mental health professionals should work to incorporate patient preferences, values, and beliefs when making treatment decisions in order to reduce premature termination and treatment refusal.
Client Preferences Affect Satisfaction, Completion, and Outcome
Lindheim, O., Bennett, C.B., Trentacosta, C.J., & McLear, C. (2014). Client preferences affect treatment satisfaction, completion, and clinical outcome: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 34, 506-517.
Giving clients a choice about treatments or to receive their preferred treatment might improve treatment outcomes. Preference usually means clients passively receiving the treatment they prefer. Choice involves clients actively making a decision about which treatment option to receive. Clients may also make informed or uninformed preferences and choices. Informed preferences and choices refer to providing clients with information or education about treatment options. Having a choice or getting one’s preference between two or more efficacious treatments might have several beneficial effects. For example, some research shows that treatment preferences positively affect therapeutic alliance, possibly because clients may enter treatment with a more positive outlook about what intervention they receive. Patients receiving a preferred treatment may also have better overall communication with their providers which may lead to better outcomes. In their meta-analysis, Lindheim and colleagues were interested in the effects of client preference or choice on treatment satisfaction, completion, and clinical outcomes. The meta-analysis included 34 different studies. Client preference or choice of treatment was modestly but significantly and consistently related to satisfaction, completion rates, and to client outcomes. Clients who were involved in shared decision making, who chose a treatment condition, or who received their preference had higher satisfaction, increased completion rates, and better clinical outcomes compared to clients who were not involved in the decision, who did not choose, or who did not receive their preference. Setting (inpatient vs outpatient) or diagnosis did not have an effect on these findings.
The findings highlight the clinical benefits of assessing client preferences and providing treatment options when two or more efficacious options are available. Increasingly, two or more efficacious options are available for common mental disorders like depression and anxiety. Many times, patients prefer psychotherapy over medications, for example. However, whereas medication prescriptions for mental disorders like depression rose dramatically in the past decades, rates of psychotherapy use remained stable or slightly declined. For those disorders for which two or more treatment options have comparable efficacy, client preference should be the deciding factor.
Patient Preference for Psychological vs Pharmacologic Treatment of Mental Disorders
McHugh, K.R., Whitton, S.W., Peckham, A.D., Welge, J.A., & Otto, M.W. (2013). Patient preference for psychological vs pharmacological treatment of psychiatric disorders: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 74, 595-602.
For the most part psychotherapy and pharmacological interventions have equivalent positive effects on depression in the short term, and psychotherapy has better outcomes in the long term (see my May, 2013 blog). There is also evidence that the effects of medications for depression are overestimated (also in the May 2013 blog). Despite all of this evidence, psychotherapy use has remained the same or declined slightly over the past 10 years (currently at about 3.4% of the population), whereas medication use for depression has doubled to over 10% of the population. At the same time, guidelines for evidenced based practice emphasize incorporating patient preferences when there is an absence of evidence-based decision rules for treatment selection. Providing patients with their preferred treatment is associated with better treatment uptake and outcomes (see June, 2013 blog). McHugh and colleagues conducted a meta analysis to review the literature on patient preferences for psychological versus pharmacological interventions for mental health disorders among adults. They included studies with treatment and non-treatment seeking samples of patients with a variety of disorders. (A quick note about meta-analysis. Meta analysis is a way of statistically combining the effect sizes from a number of studies into a common metric so that an average effect size can be calculated. Meta analysis is now the standard by which studies are reviewed. Meta analysis results are much more reliable than any single study and so represent the best way to inform clinical practice from research findings). McHugh and colleagues identified 34 studies representing over 90,000 participants. Most studies were of depressive disorders and anxiety disorders. When given a preference, 75% of participants preferred psychotherapy over medication to treat their mental health problem. In treatment seeking samples, the percentage was lower at 69%, but still significantly in favour of psychotherapy. Younger people and women were more likely to prefer psychotherapy, though the findings still showed a preference for psychotherapy among older people and men. The availability of combining psychotherapy and medication did not affect the results, so that even when given the option of both psychotherapy and medication people still preferred psychotherapy alone.
In all subsamples, participants were 3 times more likely to prefer psychotherapy to medication for their mental disorder. Patient preference for treatment is a core component of evidence based mental health practice that improves outcome and reduces drop outs. Without evidence for superiority for one treatment over another, patients should be given their preference, and on average patients overwhelmingly prefer psychotherapy. To optimize outcomes in clinical settings, providers should consider patient preferences, including their preference for psychotherapy over medication.
Author email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Client Preferences for Psychotherapy
Swift, J. K., Callahan, J. L., Ivanovic, M., & Kominiak, N. (2013, March 11). Further examination of the psychotherapy preference effect: A meta-regression analysis. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031423
Client preferences consist of preferences regarding the type of treatment offered (e.g., preference for psychotherapy or medication, preference for a behavioral approach to treatment or an insight oriented one), desires for a certain type of therapist or provider (e.g., preference for an older therapist, a female provider, or a therapist who has a nurturing personality style), and preferences about what roles and behaviors will take place in session (e.g., preference for the therapist to take a listening role or an advice giving role). In a previously published meta analysis Swift and colleagues (2011) reviewed data from 35 studies that compared preference-matched and non-matched clients. A small but significant preference outcome effect was found, indicating that preference-matched clients show greater improvements over the course of therapy, and that clients whose preferences were not matched were almost twice as likely to discontinue treatment prematurely. In this follow up meta regression study, Swift and colleagues assessed whether preference accommodation is more or less important for types of disorders, types of treatments, or different demographics like sex or age. (Meta regression involves accumulating data from across many studies to assess predictors [e.g., sex, age, diagnosis, treatment type, etc.] of the preference effect). For example, some research has indicated that men prefer therapists with more feminine traits and that men prefer pharmacological interventions. But does accommodating these preferences affect outcomes and drop out rates? Is matching preferences essential for younger clients? Is matching preferences more important for women or ethnic minorities? The authors analysed data from 33 studies representing 6,058 clients to address some of these questions. The only variable that predicted the influence that preferences have on rates of premature termination was the length of the intervention. That is, it may be more important to accommodate client preferences for briefer therapies. Perhaps, as clients continue in therapy for longer durations, other variables such as the therapeutic alliance play a bigger role in determining whether or not one drops out prematurely. It is also possible that as treatment continues, clients may experience a shift in preferences to more closely match the treatment conditions that they were given. Once this shift in preferences has occurred, preferences are no longer mismatched, and the risk of dropping out may be diminished.
This study provides evidence that incorporating client preferences may be important for all types of clients. Generally, when client preferences are accommodated, clients show greater improvements while in treatment and are less likely to discontinue the intervention prematurely. As much as is practical, practitioners might collaboratively work with clients to identify what preferences they hold for treatment, and to discuss those preferences in the context of what is the most effective treatment that is available. This is particularly important for psychotherapies of shorter duration..
Author email: email@example.com