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
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.
Effects of Combining Psychotherapy and Pharmacotherapy on Quality of Life in Depression
Kamenov, K., Twomey, C., Cabello, M., Prina, A.M., & Ayuso-Mateos, J.L. (2016). The efficacy of psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, and their combination on functioning and quality of life in depression: A meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine, doi: 10.1017/S0033291716002774.
Both psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy are efficacious for reducing symptoms of depression. Some studies suggest that functioning (i.e., the ability to engage in work, school, and social activities) and quality of life (i.e., satisfaction with these activities and perception of one’s health) are just as important to depressed patients as is reducing their symptoms. In fact, many patients place greater priority on improving functioning compared to reducing symptoms. In this meta analysis, Kamenov and colleagues assess the relative efficacy of psychotherapy vs pharmacotherapy in improving functioning and quality of life. They also evaluate if combining psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy is efficacious relative to either treatment alone. The meta analysis included k = 153 studies of over 29,000 participants. Psychotherapies often included CBT and interpersonal psychotherapy. Compared to control groups (k = 37 to 52) both psychotherapy (g = 0.35, 95% CI = 0.24, 0.46) and medications (g = 0.27, 95% CI = 0.21, 0.32) significantly improved functioning. Also, compared to controls both psychotherapy (g = 0.35, 95% CI = 0.26, 0.44) and medications (g = 0.31, 95% CI = 0.24, 0.38) significantly improved quality of life in depressed participants. In studies that directly compared psychotherapy and medications, there were no significant differences when it came to improving functioning, but there was a small significant advantage to psychotherapy over medication for improving quality of life (g = 0.21, 95% CI = 0.01, 0.43). Combined psychotherapy and medications (k = 19) was more effective to improve functioning compared to pharmacotherapy alone (g = 0.34, 95% CI = 0.18, 0.50) and compared to psychotherapy alone (g = 0.32, 95% CI = 0.14, 0.49). Combined treatment was also more efficacious for improved quality of life compared to medications alone (g = 0.36, 95% CI = 0.11, 0.62) and to psychotherapy alone (g = 0.39, 95% CI = 0.19, 0.58).
Combined treatment of medications and psychotherapy is more effective than either treatment alone for improving functioning and quality of life. However, most patients prefer psychotherapy to medications, and some studies indicate that many patients choose not to get treated at all rather than receive medications. Further, quality of life can be substantially compromised by medication side effects. Clinicians should take these factors into account when considering monotherapy with antidepressant medications or combined treatment of pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy for depression.
Clients’ Experiential Depth in Therapy Predicts Better Outcomes
Pascual-Leone, A. & Yeryomenko, N. (2016). The client “experiencing” scale as a predictor of treatment outcomes: A meta-analysis on psychotherapy process, Psychotherapy Research, DOI: 10.1080/10503307.2016.1152409
A key issue in existential-humanistic psychotherapy is the degree to which therapy encourages clients to explore new feelings and meanings in relation to the self. This is often called ‘experiential depth’ or simply ‘experiencing’. Carl Roger highlighted the need for clients to increase their awareness, accept their feelings, and use their feelings as information to further explore and understand themselves. The notion of ‘depth of experiencing’ refers to the degree to which clients engage and explore their feelings moment by moment in therapy to increase personal meaning-making. One way of assessing experiential depth is with the Client Experiencing Scale. Low scores on the scale indicate unengaged levels of experiencing, in which clients recount events in an emotionally neutral or disengaged manner. High scores indicate more introspection as clients begin to process their experiences and identify feelings that lead to creating new meanings that contribute to resolving their problems. In this meta analysis of the Client Experiencing Scale, Pascual-Leone and Yeryomenko systematically reviewed the research literature and found 10 studies of 406 clients that evaluated the scale`s association with client outcomes. The therapies in the meta analysis included experiential-humanistic approaches, CBT, and interpersonal psychotherapy. Overall, they found a moderate association (r = .25; 95% CI: .16, .33) between higher client experiencing and better treatment outcomes. The association was similar for different therapeutic orientations and stages of therapy. On average, client depth of experiencing tended to increase from the early to later stages of treatment.
Compared to those who did not engage with their experiences in a meaningful way, clients who were internally focused, engaged in exploration, referred to their emotions, and who reflected on their experiences had better outcomes. Experiential depth allowed clients to create new meanings to resolve personal problems. Therapist interventions that deliberately point the client to a deeper level of experiencing, are likely to result in clients following suit and deepen their own process.
The Quality of Psychotherapy Research Affects The Size of Treatment Effects for CBT
Cuijpers, P., Cristea, I.A., Karyotaki, E., Reijnders, M., Huibers, M.J.J. (2016). How effective are cognitive behavior therapies for major depression and anxiety disorders? A meta-analytic update of the evidence. World Psychiatry, 15, 245-258.
You might think that an esoteric topic like study quality should not really be of interest or concern to clinicians – but it is an important topic with practice implications. In this meta analysis Pim Cuijpers and his research group updated the meta analytic evidence for the efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for a variety of disorders (major depressive disorder [MDD], generalized anxiety disorder [GAD], panic disorder [PAD], and social anxiety disorder [SAD]). The important thing about meta analyses is that the method combines the effect sizes from all relevant studies into a single metric – an average effect size. These average effect sizes are much more reliable than findings from any one single study. In fact, whenever possible, clinical decision-making should be based on a meta analysis and systematic review and not on a single study. Meta analyses also allow one to give more weight to those studies that have larger sample sizes, and that employ better methodologies. Even more, meta analytic techniques allow one to adjust the averaged effect size by taking into account publication bias (i.e., an indication of the effects from studies that might have been completed but were never published, likely because they had unfavorable findings). Usually, average effect sizes are lower when they are adjusted for study quality and publication bias. Cuijpers and colleagues’ meta analyses found that the unadjusted average effects of CBT were large for each of the disorders (ranging from g = .75 to .88 [confidence intervals not reported]). However adjusting for publication bias reduced the effects to medium-sized for MDD (g = .65) and GAD (g = .59). Only 17.4% of the individual studies of CBT were considered to be of “high quality” (i.e., studies that use the best methodology to reduce bias, like random allocation, blinding, using all the available data, etc.). After adjusting for study quality, the effects of CBT for SAD (g = .61) and PAD (g = .76) were also reduced to medium-sized. Not surprisingly, the effects of CBT were largest when the treatment was compared to a wait-list no-treatment control group. The effects were small to moderate when CBT was compared to treatment as usual or to a placebo.
Even when adjusting for study quality and publication bias, the average effects of CBT were medium-sized for a variety of common disorders compared to control conditions. Unfortunately, the quality of the studies was not high for most trials, reducing the effect sizes and lowering our confidence in the efficacy of the treatment. Nevertheless, the findings of this meta analysis suggest that CBT will likely have moderate effects for the average patient with MDD, SAD, PAD, and GAD.
Long-Term Efficacy of Psychological Therapies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Laird, K.T., Tanner-Smith, E.E., Russell, A.C., Hollon, S.D., & Walker, L.S. (2016). Short-term and long-term efficacy of psychological therapies for irritable bowel syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal (GI) disorder that affects 5% to 16% of the population. People with IBS have reduced quality of life similar to those with heart disease, heart failure, and diabetes. Previous meta analyses indicated that psychological therapies are just as effective as antidepressant medications immediately after treatment for improving symptoms of IBS. However, whether psychological therapies have longer lasting effects is unknown. It is important to patients and providers to know the longer term effects of psychological treatments for IBS because the disorder has a fluctuating course, and so symptoms may reappear after treatment is completed. In their meta analysis, Laird and colleagues reviewed 41 studies that recruited almost 2,300 adult patients. [A note about meta analysis: Meta analysis combines the standardized effect sizes (d) across many studies to estimate an average effect size. This means that meta analyses are much more reliable than any single study, and when possible they should be the basis for practice recommendations]. Psychological therapies for IBS often included cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but also included relaxation therapy, mindfulness, hypnosis, behavioral treatment, and psychodynamic therapies. Control conditions often were: supportive therapy, education, fake treatment for biofeedback or hypnosis, online discussion groups, treatment as usual, or wait-list controls. Psychological therapies were more effective than control conditions immediately post-treatment in improving GI symptoms, and the effects were moderately large (d = .69). Psychological therapies remained more effective than control conditions up to 6 months post-treatment (d = .76), and from 6 months to 1 year post-treatment (d = .73). CBT and other treatments (e.g., relaxation, hypnosis) were equally effective; and individual and group delivered treatments were no different in their efficacy. The number of sessions, duration of sessions, and frequency of sessions did not impact the efficacy of psychological interventions.
Determining the longer term efficacy of psychological treatment for IBS is important because the symptoms tend to be recurrent and sometimes are chronic. Psychological treatments reduce GI symptoms in adults with IBS, and the effects appear to be long lasting – at least up to 1 year post-treatment. The average individual who received psychotherapy was better off than 75% of control condition participants.
Attrition from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Fernandez, E., Salem, D., Swift, J. K., & Ramtahal, N. (2015, August 24). Meta-analysis of dropout from cognitive behavioral therapy: Magnitude, timing, and moderators. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication.
“Dropping out” refers to clients who discontinue therapy prematurely and against professional advice. In contrast, “refusing” refers to clients who do not start a therapy that is made available to them. Together, both dropping out and refusing are referred to as “attrition” from therapy. Attrition is a problem for clinicians because of loss of revenue and time, and a problem for clients because their mental health needs remain unmet. In a previous meta analysis that included 669 studies, Swift and Greenberg (2012) reported that the average drop out rate across all therapies was 19.7%. In this meta analysis, Fernandez and colleagues looked specifically at drop outs and refusers in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The authors reviewed 115 studies that reported drop outs, 36 of which also reported on the number of participants who refused treatment before starting. The average percent of patients who refused CBT prior to starting treatment was 15.9%, and the average percent of patients who dropped out after starting CBT was 26.2%. So the total average attrition rate was 42.1%. Compared to any other disorder, patients with depression were significantly more likely to refuse CBT (21.6%) or to drop out (36.4%). It is possible that depressed patients have a harder time summoning the energy to participate in therapy, and experience lower hope, greater social withdrawal, and lower motivation once they initiate CBT. For those receiving e-therapies (e.g., internet, phone, and CD-based treatments), pre-treatment refusal rates were 10% to 15% higher than individual or group CBT, and drop outs from e-therapies were 10% higher compared to individual or group CBT. Those offered e-therapy might be ambivalent about its utility, the therapeutic alliance might be limited, and they might have a lower sense of engagement in the therapeutic process. Finally, a greater number of planned therapy sessions was related to lower attrition rates. Perhaps the promise of more sessions raised clients’ hopes of achieving better outcomes.
These findings suggest that engaging and encouraging clients to participate in the therapy may have to start even before therapy begins. This may involve enhancing readiness by means of motivational interviewing, for example. Clients who are depressed are particularly likely to refuse treatment or drop out, and so clinicians must pay particular attention to the level of motivation and engagement of depressed clients. Although e-therapies are promising in that they may allow a therapist or agency to reach more people including those who live in remote areas, the attrition rate of e-therapies may be unacceptably high. Attrition may lead to demoralization and lowered expectations for treatment among these patients, which may negatively impact future treatment. Perhaps e-therapies should not be considered as a first-line treatment for those who can easily access individual or group therapy. Alternatively, the high attrition rates of e-therapies may be reduced by supplementing the intervention with some in-person therapy sessions to enhance engagement and a therapeutic alliance.