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 CBT, negative effects of psychological interventions, and what people want from therapy.
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
Dropping Out From Psychotherapy
Lutz, W., de Jong, K., Rubel, J.A., & Delgadillo, J. (2021). Measuring, predicting, and tracking change in psychotherapy. In M. Barkham, W. Lutz, and L.G. Castonguay (Eds.) Bergin and Garfield’s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change (7th ed.). Wiley. Chapter 4.
In this part of the chapter, Lutz and colleagues review research methods related to patients dropping out of psychotherapy. Drop outs represent an important problem. For the clinician, a patient who drops out may represent loss of income due to missed appointments, extra work, administrative costs, and a lower sense of professional self-efficacy. Not all patients who terminate therapy early have a poorer outcome. But the research indicates that overall, patients who drop out of treatment do have poorer outcomes, higher hospitalization rates, lower work productivity, and higher social costs than patients who complete treatment. Hence, when a patient drops out of therapy it should be defined as a failure of the treatment that could lead to further demoralization of the patient. Defining a drop out is tricky in that some studies indicate that if a patient does not attend a minimum number of sessions, then they have dropped out. However, a more realistic definition might be that if a patient unilaterally decides to end therapy against a therapist’s advice, then the patient can be considered to have dropped out. Estimates of patient drop out from therapy vary widely depending on the treatment context and patient characteristics. For example, highly controlled studies report dropout rates of about 19.7%, but less controlled studies that might be closer to real world practice report average dropout rates of 26%. But the range of dropout rates across studies was very wide from 0% to 74.2%. Patient characteristics that led to higher dropout rates included higher initial impairment, younger age, lower level of education, a personality disorder diagnosis, and negative expectations about treatment. Therapists had a significant impact on dropping out as well. Therapist effects accounted for 12.6% of the variance in dropping out – that is a moderate but important effect. That is, some therapists have higher dropout rates than others, and this is likely independent of patient characteristics. This is like therapist effects on patient outcomes, in which it is estimated that about 10.1% of patient deterioration is predicted by the therapist’s effect.
Patients dropping out from psychotherapy is an important problem that negatively affects the patient, the therapist, and that has broader social, health, and economic consequences as well. Aligning the patient’s and therapist goals for the therapy, coming to a collaborative agreement on how therapy will work, and developing an emotional and empathic bond with the patient may be ways of reducing the number of dropouts from therapy. These are all elements of the therapeutic alliance that must be negotiated very early in therapy to forestall a negative outcome such as the patient dropping out.
How to Reduce Premature Termination in Your Psychotherapy Practice
Swift, J.K., Greenberg, R.P., Whipple, J.L., & Kominiak, N. (2012). Practice recommendations for reducing premature termination in therapy. Professional Psychology, 43, 379-387.
As discussed in a previous blog entry, Swift and Greenberg (2012) found that almost 20% of adult individual therapy patients drop out of therapy. Dropping out is generally defined as clients unilaterally terminating psychotherapy prior to benefitting fully and against their therapist recommendation. In this paper, Swift and colleagues review five methods with the best research evidence to reduce premature termination. (1) Providing education about duration and course of therapy. Research indicates that 25% of clients expect to recover after only two sessions of therapy, 44% after four sessions, and 62% expect to recover after 8 sessions. However the research literature indicates that it takes 13 to 18 sessions for 50% of clients to recover. Further, although some clients improve quickly and maintain that, some clients may feel worse before they get better, especially if the symptoms are related to painful feelings or events. So aligning client expectations about the length of treatment and the course of treatment may reduce dropping out. This education should be research based to increase the credibility of the information. (2) Providing role induction. Clients who are naıve to therapy may start not knowing what behaviors or roles are most appropriate on their part and could feel lost or like they are doing things wrong. Role induction refers to providing clients with some pre-treatment education or orientation about appropriate therapy behaviors. This could be done by video, verbally, or in writing. A meta analysis found that pre-therapy role induction increases attendance and reduces drop outs. (3) Incorporating client preferences. Client preferences include wants or desires concerning the type of treatment that is to be used, the type of therapist one would like to work with, and the roles and behaviors that are to take place in therapy. A recent meta analysis found that clients who had their preferences accommodated were almost half as likely to drop out of treatment prematurely compared with clients whose preferences were not taken into account. (4) Strengthening early hope. Although it is important that clients do not hold unrealistic expectations (i.e., recovery after only two sessions), it is also important that they have a general hope that therapy can help them get better. Research evidence shows that expectations for change explain as much as 15% of the variance in therapy outcomes. (5) Fostering the therapeutic alliance. The therapeutic alliance involves agreeing on goals and tasks of therapy, and a positive bond between client and therapist. A rupture in the alliance has been associated with dropping out of therapy, and a previous meta analysis found that a stronger alliance was associated with fewer drop outs.
Therapists can do 5 things that are research supported to reduce patient drop outs. (1) Provide education about duration and course of therapy. Practicing clinicians can help their clients to develop realistic expectations about duration and recovery prior to the start of therapy. Clinicians working with a more severely disturbed population or working from an orientation that espouses longer treatment durations may want to alter the education they provide to better fit their clients. (2) Provide role induction. Clinicians can provide education about the “jobs” of both the client and the therapist, such as who is expected to do most of the talking and who will be responsible for structuring or directing sessions. This type of induction should also include a discussion of the rationale for the approach that will be used. (3) Incorporate client preferences. Accommodating client preferences does not mean the therapist should automatically use the client’s preferred methods. Often clients are unaware of what treatment options are available or best suited for their particular problems. Instead, therapists should consider sharing their knowledge about the particular disorder and the nature of different approaches to the treatment of those problems with clients. Clients can then share their preferences regarding those treatment options with the therapist and work collaboratively toward a decision about which approach might be best. (4) Strengthen early hope. Therapists should express confidence that the therapy will work for their patient. Knowing the research evidence on the efficacy of psychotherapy will increase the therapist’s credibility in making such statements. (5) Foster a therapeutic alliance. Efforts to foster the therapeutic alliance should occur early on in therapy when the risk of premature termination is high, and as also therapy progresses. Early efforts should focus on making sure there is an agreement on the goals and tasks before jumping to treatment interventions.
Author email: Joshua.Keith.Swift@gmail.com