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
Psychotherapy for Borderline Personality Disorder
Leichsenring, F., Heim, N., Leweke, F., Spitzer, C., Steinert, C., Kernberg, O.F. (2023). Borderline personality disorder: A review. Journal of the American Medical Association, 329(8):670–679.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) occurs in 0.7% to 2.7% of adults and has significant negative impacts on social, vocational, and psychological functioning (inability to hold a job, high rates of comorbid medical and mental health problems, high rates of suicide). Patients with BPD can experience intense anxiety and depressive affect and impulsive behavior. Comorbid rates of depression, anxiety, PTSD, or substance use are very high (30% to 85%). Rates of BPD are slightly higher for women (3%) than for men (2.7%). The etiology of BPD might include genetic factors that interact with adverse childhood events like sexual and physical abuse. BPD is characterized by sudden shifts between extremes of idealization (extremely positive views of self and others) and devaluation (extremely negative views of self and others). These shifts have a significant negative impact on self-image, emotion regulation, and interpersonal relationships. In this extensive review, Leichsenring and colleagues discuss the clinical management and psychotherapy of patients with BPD. A series of meta-analyses that included 75 randomized controlled trials of 4507 patients indicated that psychotherapy is efficacious in treating symptoms of BPD (SMD = -0.52 [95% CI: -0.70 to -0.33]). The meta-analysis looked at 17 studies that compared different forms of psychotherapy (DBT, psychodynamic, CBT, eclectic) and found no difference in the efficacy of these treatments. Stronger evidence was available for DBT and for psychodynamic therapy relative to usual care. DBT focuses on increasing a patient’s motivation and to identify problem solving strategies to help regulate emotions and interpersonal relationships. Psychodynamic therapy emphasizes identifying recurring patterns of behaviors related to self and others, exploring defense mechanisms related to avoidance, and discussing past experiences that influenced current problems. Despite the overall efficacy of psychotherapy for BPD, almost half of patients do not benefit from treatment. Although pharmacotherapy might be useful to reduce comorbid symptoms of depression and anxiety, the research suggests that medications are not effective in reducing symptoms of BPD.
The treatment of patients with BPD is complicated by the interpersonal impact of the disorder on the therapist and on the therapeutic relationship. Often therapists might be embedded in the patient’s relational patterns of idealization and devaluation (“all good” and “all bad”) that can strain the therapeutic relationship. Sometimes therapists might have strong personal reactions to such patients (i.e., experience countertransference) which might manifest as anti-therapeutic behaviors on the part of the therapist (over- or under-involvement with the patient) which can be stressful. Leichsenring and colleagues make recommendations to help therapists manage the patient-clinician relationship such as: setting clear boundaries while maintaining empathy, developing and maintaining a therapeutic alliance including setting realistic goals, avoiding stigmatizing the patient as “difficult”, collaborating and communicating with other treating clinicians to avoid splitting (one as “all good” and the other as “all bad”), being aware of and managing one’s own feelings and reactions to the patient (countertransference), and using one’s knowledge of the patient’s biographical information (history of abuse) to help to understand the patient’s strong emotional reactions.
Is Psychodynamic Therapy Effective for Treating Personality Disorders?
Keefe, J. R., McMain, S. F., McCarthy, K. S., Zilcha-Mano, S., Dinger, U., Sahin, Z., Graham, K., & Barber, J. P. (2019, December 5). A meta-analysis of psychodynamic treatments for borderline and Cluster C personality disorders. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. Advance online publication.
Personality disorders are common mental conditions affecting between 6.1% and 9.1% of the population. Having a comorbid personality disorder predicts a number of negative outcomes from psychotherapy including lower remission rates, greater resistance to therapy, and greater relapse after therapy. Psychodynamic therapies are one of two classes of therapy that have been repeatedly tested in clinical trials for personality disorders (the other being cognitive-behavioral therapies). Psychodynamic therapies aim to help patients improve their personality functioning, including attachment, mentalization, and maturity of defense mechanisms. Dynamic therapies for personality disorders include transference-focused therapy, affect-phobia therapy, mentalization based treatment, and good psychiatric management. In this meta-analysis, Keefe and colleagues systematically assessed whether psychodynamic therapy was as effective as other active treatments and more effective than no treatment. They also evaluated the quality of the studies. They found 16 randomized controlled studies of over 1100 patients that directly compared psychodynamic therapy to another therapy or to a control condition. Outcomes included personality disorder symptoms, suicidality, general symptoms, and drop-out rates. Overall, psychodynamic therapy was as effective as other therapies when it came to all of these outcomes, and the drop-out rates were equivalent. Psychodynamic therapy was more effective than no treatment for personality disorder symptoms (g = 0.63; 95% CI [0.87, 0.41], SE = 0.08, p = .002), suicidality (g = 0.67; 95% CI [1.13, 0.20], SE = 0.15, p = .020), and general symptoms (g = 0.38;95% CI [0.68, 0.08], SE = 0.13, p = .019). Average study quality was high, suggesting that one could be confident in the overall findings of this meta analysis.
For all outcomes, psychodynamic therapies were as effective as other active treatments and more effective than no-treatment controls for borderline personality disorder and for mixed Cluster C disorders (dependent, avoidant, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders). The authors concluded that psychodynamic therapies are effective in treating personality disorders like borderline personality disorder and those with Cluster C personality disorders.
Group Psychotherapy for Borderline Personality Disorder
McLaughlin, S.P.B., Barkowski, S., Burlingame, G.M., Strauss, B., & Rosendahl, J. (2019). Group psychotherapy for borderline personality disorder: A meta-Analysis of randomized-controlled trials. Psychotherapy. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pst0000211
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by fear of abandonment, unstable intense relationships, rapid changes in identity and self-image, impulsivity, wide mood swings, periods of intense anger, and ongoing feelings of emptiness. These symptoms sometimes lead to suicidal behavior or non-suicidal self-injury. Often, those with BPD report a very stressful childhood that included sexual and/or physical abuse, and neglect. Borderline personality disorder is the most common of the personality disorders and is associated with severe social psychological impairment such that those with BPD often have unstable employment, are involved in abusive relationships, and engage in risky behaviors. A diagnosis of BPD is also associated with a high rate of mortality due to suicide. Practice guidelines indicate that psychotherapy is a key component to the treatment of BPD. Two psychological treatment approaches that incorporate group interventions are dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and mentalization-based treatment (MBT). In DBT patients learn specific skills to alter maladaptive ways of regulating emotions in a group context. In MBT, an attachment-based treatment, the focus is on building trust in others through group interactions that generalize to other social relationships. In this meta-analysis, McLaughlin and colleagues reviewed 24 studies that compared group treatment for BPD to treatment as usual, which included a variety of interventions like supportive groups, pharmacotherapy, individual therapy, and others. Some of the treatments for BPD were stand-alone groups and some groups were part of a larger comprehensive program. Participants attended between 12 and 130 sessions, and group size ranged from 4 to 12 members. The meta-analysis revealed that group treatment for BPD versus treatment as usual resulted in moderate to large effect on BPD symptoms: g = .72, CI: [.41, 1.04], p < .001. The effects of group treatment versus treatment as usual on suicidality produced a moderate effect, g = .46, CI: [.22, .71], p < .001. The authors reported similar results for secondary outcomes like depression, anxiety, and general mental health. Drop-out rates were similar between group treatments (26.26%) and treatment as usual (28.26%). There were no differences in the effects of group therapy orientations on any of the outcomes or on drop-out rates.
The results of this meta-analysis indicated the value of group treatment for BPD not only for core symptoms and suicidality, but also for symptoms related to quality of life (depression, anxiety). Theoretical orientation did not explain any of the findings, suggesting that treatments like DBT and MBT in a group format are equally effective. Therapists and patients can feel confident that group treatment for BPD are among the most effective treatments available.
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Efficacy of Psychotherapies for Borderline Personality Disorder
Cristea, I.A., Gentili, C., Cotet, C.D., Palomba, D., Barbui, C., & Cuijpers, P. (2017). Efficacy of psychotherapies for borderline personality disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.4287.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a debilitating disorder characterized by: severe instability of emotions, relationships, and behaviors. More than 75% of those with BPD have engaged in deliberate self-harm, and suicide rates are between 8% and 10%. BPD is the most common of the personality disorders with a high level of functional impairment. Several psychotherapies have been developed to treat BPD. Most notably, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and psychodynamic treatments like mentalization-based and transference-focused psychotherapy. This meta-analysis by Cristea and colleagues examined the efficacy of psychotherapy for BPD. Studies included in the meta-analysis (33 trials of 2256 clients) were randomized controlled trials in which a psychotherapy was compared to a control condition for adults with BPD. For all borderline-relevant outcomes (combined borderline symptoms, self-harm, parasuicidal and suicidal behaviors) yielded a significant but small effect of the psychotherapies over control conditions at post treatment (g = 0.35; 95%CI: 0.20, 0.50). At follow up, there was again a significant effect of the psychotherapies over control conditions with a moderate effect (g = 0.45; 95% CI: 0.15, 0.75). When the different treatment types were looked at separately, DBT (g = 0.34; 95% CI: 0.15, 0.53) and psychodynamic approaches (g = 0.41; 95% CI: 0.12, 0.69) were more effective than control interventions, while CBT (g = 0.24; 95% CI: −0.01, 0.49) was not. The authors also reported a significant amount of publication bias, suggesting that published results may be positively biased in favor of the psychotherapies.
The results indicate a small effect of psychotherapies at post-treatment and a moderate effect at follow-up for the treatment of BPD. DBT and psychodynamic treatment were significantly more effective than control conditions, whereas CBT was not. However, all effects were likely inflated by publication bias, indicating a tendency to publish only positive findings. Nevertheless, various independent psychotherapies demonstrated efficacy for symptoms of self harm, suicide, and general psychopathology in BPD.
Individual versus Group Psychotherapy
Burlingame, G.M., Seebeck, J.D., Janis, R.A., Whitcomb, K.E., Barkowski, S., Rosendahl, J., & Strauss, B. (2016). Outcome differences between individual and group formats when identical and nonidentical treatments, patients, and doses are compared: A 25-year meta-analytic perspective. Psychotherapy, 53, 446-461.
With increasing service demands being put on mental health systems, clinicians and administrators are looking to more efficient ways of providing care to more patients. One option is group therapy in which more patients can be treated with fewer resources. However, are groups as effective as individual therapy for mental disorders? This meta-analysis by Burlingame and colleagues addresses this question by examining 67 studies in which group and individual therapy were directly compared within the same study. The majority of studies included adults with anxiety, mood, or substance use disorders, with some studies focusing on medical conditions, eating or personality disorders. Two-thirds of studies were of cognitive-behavioral therapy, but other treatment types like interpersonal, psychodynamic, and supportive therapy were also tested. Groups were defined as having at least 3 patients per group. The average number of sessions for group and individual therapy were equivalent (group M = 14.67, SD = 8.75; individual 15.94, SD = 14.37)), and as expected group therapy sessions were longer in minutes (M = 100.39, SD = 30.87) than individual therapy sessions (M = 56.55, SD = 14.37) given the multi-person demands of groups. Groups were primarily closed to new members after starting, they tended to have homogenous membership based on diagnosis, and groups tended to be co-led by 2 therapists. Individual and group therapy were not significantly different for all disorders and outcomes at post-treatment (g = -0.03; 95%CI = -0.10, 0.04), short-term follow-up (g = 0.01; 95% CI = -0.13, 0.11), and long-term follow-up (g = 0.00; 95% CI= -0.12, 0.13). Drop out rates for group therapy (17.28%) and individual therapy (14.96%) were not significantly different (OR = 1.10; 95% CI = 0.90, 1.33), and patients were likely to accept group therapy (88.76%) as often as they accepted individual therapy (84.83%) when one or the other was offered. Pre- to post-treatment effect sizes were moderately large for both interventions (group: g = 0.60, 95% CI = 0.48, 0.72; individual: g = 0.53, 95% CI = 0.42, 0.65). Patients presenting with depression, substance us, anxiety, or eating disorders had the highest level of improvement.
When identical treatments, patients, and doses are compared, individual and group therapy resulted in equivalent outcomes across of a variety of disorders. This is good news for clinicians and agencies looking to maximize resources to treat more patients. However, running a group is more complex than providing individual therapy. Finding a sufficient number of patients to start a group, assessing and preparing each patient prior to starting a group, writing a note per patient per session, and managing attrition is logistically more challenging. Further, most therapists are not formally trained to provide group interventions and so they may find the task of managing a substantially larger amount of within-session group process information to be complex. Finally, as Burlingame and colleagues indicate, there are institutional considerations so that group programs require a milieu that supports group referrals and flexibility in scheduling. Nevertheless the findings of this meta analysis indicate the potential for group therapy to provide efficacious treatments for mental disorders.
Direct Psychological Interventions Reduce Suicide and Suicide Attempts
Meerwijk, E.L., Parekh, A., Oquendo, M.A., Allen, I.E., Franck, L.S., & Lee, K.A. (2016). Direct versus indirect psychosocial and behavioural interventions to prevent suicide and suicide attempts: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Psychiatry.
The World Health Organization reports that more than 800,000 people die of suicide per year around the world. However suicide prevention efforts over the past decade have fallen short of targets. In fact, the prevalence rates of suicide in the US have risen steadily since 2000 to about 1.3% of the population in 2014. Many who kill themselves have a mental disorder like depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, psychoses, or personality disorders. Best practices suggest that directly addressing suicidal thoughts and behaviors during treatment, rather than only addressing symptoms like depression and hopelessness, are most effective in reducing suicide. However, there are no meta analyses of randomized controlled trials that specifically assess the relative utility of direct versus indirect psychological interventions. In their meta analysis, Meerwijk and colleagues looked at psychosocial interventions aimed to prevent suicide or to treat mental illness associated with suicide. They included 31 studies representing over 13,000 participants. Interventions included cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), case management, social skills training, and supportive telephone calls. Depending on the target problem, the interventions either directly addressed suicidal behavior or they indirectly addressed suicidal behavior. Mean duration of treatment was over 11 months. Studies that looked at direct or indirect interventions were each compared to control groups that received some form of usual care in the community, or psychiatric management, or general practitioner care. Individuals who received usual care were 1.5 times more likely to die of or attempt suicide compared to those receiving direct or indirect psychological interventions. There was a 35% lower odds of suicide and attempts with direct interventions compared to usual care; and an 18% lower odds of suicide and attempts with indirect interventions compared to usual care. The difference between the effectiveness of direct versus indirect interventions was large (d = .77), suggesting that direct interventions were more effective than indirect interventions at reducing suicide and suicide attempts.
This is the largest meta analysis of its kind. Most direct interventions to prevent suicide and suicidal behaviors were based on CBT and DBT. Indirectly addressing suicide by focusing on depressive symptoms, anxiety, and hopelessness was somewhat effective compared to usual care. However, direct interventions that included talking about the patient’s suicidal thoughts and behaviors and how best to cope were most effective.