Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change: Starting in March 2013 I will review one chapter a month from the Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change in addition to reviewing psychotherapy research articles. Book chapters have more restrictive copy right rules than journal articles, so I will not provide author email addresses for these chapters. If you are interested, the Handbook table of content and sections of the book can be read on Google Books.
Crits-Christoph, P., Connolly Gibbons, M.B., & Mukherjee, D. (2013). Psychotherapy process-outcome research. In M.E. Lambert (Ed.), Bergin and Garfield’s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, 6th Edition (pp. 298-340). New York: Wiley.
This month I consider the section in Crits-Christoph and colleagues’ chapter on the process of psychodynamic therapy (PDT). There are a number of PDT models, but they each share some fundamental aspects of treatment or purported mechanisms. One is insight or self understanding, in which patients learn about themselves and their relationships through interventions like interpretations. Self understanding is expected to help patients reduce symptoms by increasing adaptive responses in their important relationships. Transference interpretations may help patients understand their patterns within the therapy relationship, address or change these patterns, and generalize the changes to relationships outside of therapy. Another mechanism might be changes in defensive functioning. Defense mechanisms may be expressions and means of coping with unconscious conflict, needs, and motivations. Change in defensive functioning from less adaptive (e.g. acting out, passive aggression) to more adaptive (e.g., altruism, self observation) may be necessary to achieve improvement in symptoms. Crits-Christoph and colleagues addressed four questions in their review of research on the process of PDT. (1) Are the uses of PDT techniques like transference interpretations related to treatment outcomes? A number of studies have associated the use of PDT interventions and outcomes, and the average effect size is moderate. In general, transference interpretations were associated with better treatment outcomes. However the findings for transference interpretations are complicated. For example, the use of too many transference interpretations may not be therapeutic and may result in poorer outcomes. A small number of studies looked at the quality or accuracy of transference interpretations and found a moderate relationship between accurate interpretations and good outcomes. Most of these studies did not control for previous improvement in outcomes, so an alternate explanation might be that patients whose symptoms improve facilitate therapists to provide more effective transference interpretations. (2) Is patient self-understanding or insight associated with positive outcomes in PDT? Crits-Christoph and colleagues concluded from their review that changes in self-understanding is an important part of the therapeutic process of PDT. The relationship between insight and outcomes were not evident in CBT or medication interventions, thus suggesting that self-understanding is a specific mechanism of PDT. (3) Is change in defensive functioning related to outcomes in PDT? Only four studies have looked at this question. The studies suggest that improved defensive functioning is related to good outcomes especially for those with more severe problems. However, it remains unclear whether change in defensive functioning causes change in symptoms or the other way around. (4) Is therapist competence in PDT related to treatment outcomes? There is some evidence that competence and adherence in delivering PDT were related to good patient outcomes. Some research also showed that competence and adherence to PDT protocols preceded or caused good outcomes.
There is good evidence that transference interpretations are related to outcomes, but therapists need to use these judiciously. The research suggests that too many transference interpretations in those with lower levels of functioning, or inaccurate interpretations in general, can reduce outcomes or be related to poorer outcomes. There is also good evidence that patient self understanding of relationship patterns will result in positive outcomes. Self understanding or insight may be a specific mechanism by which PDT works that sets it apart from CBT and the effects of medications. The research also indicates some evidence for the positive effects of changes in defensive functioning, but it is not clear whether change in defenses is a cause of or caused by positive symptom outcomes. Therapist competence and adherence in delivering PDT is also related to good patient outcomes. This highlights the need for training and supervision in evidence based PDT interventions.