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
Countertransference: Patient Personality Affects Psychotherapist Reactions
Stefana, A., Bulgari, V., Youngstrom, E.A., Dakanalis, A., Bordin, C., & Hopwood, C. (2020). Patient personality and psychotherapist reactions in individual psychotherapy setting: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy.
Countertransference is one of the oldest concepts in psychotherapy. An over-inclusive definition refers to all of the therapist’s emotional reactions to a patient that is evoked by the patient’s behaviors, thoughts, or feelings in the therapy. However, a more contemporary and integrated definition defines countertransference as a subset of therapist reactions. In this view, countertransference is the internal and external reactions of a psychotherapist evoked by the patient, such that patient behaviors interact with unresolved issues of the therapist. In a previous meta-analysis, countertransference reactions of the therapist was associated with poorer patient outcomes, and therapists’ successful management of countertransference was associated with improved patient outcomes. The clinical literature often reports that patients with a personality disorder often evoke troublesome emotional reactions in therapists. In this systematic review, Stefana and colleagues provide a comprehensive evaluation of the relationship between patient personality problems and psychotherapists’ emotional, cognitive, and behavioral reactions in individual therapy. Seven studies were included in their review. Fifty-three percent of therapists were psychodynamically-oriented, most therapists had more than 3 years of experience, and all patients had a personality disorder or were assessed for problematic personality traits. Overall, the authors found that patients with Cluster A personality traits (paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal) tended to evoke therapist responses of feeling criticized, unappreciated, dismissed, or devalued by the patient. Patients with Cluster B personality traits (borderline, histrionic, narcissistic) tended to evoke therapist responses of feeling overwhelmed, helpless/inadequate, sexualized (experiences of sexual tension), and disengaged toward the patient. Patients with Cluster C personality traits (avoidant, dependent, obsessive-compulsive) tended to evoke parental/protective responses in the therapist. Looking at specific personality traits: paranoid personality traits evoked therapists feeling criticized, schizoid personality traits evoked therapists feeling inadequate, schizotypal or obsessive compulsive or narcissistic personality traits evoked therapists feeling disengaged, antisocial personality traits evoked therapists feeling devalued, borderline personality traits evoked therapists feeling overinvolved, avoidant or dependent personality traits evoked therapists feeling parental.
The research appears to show that patients with certain personality traits, and thus certain ways of thinking, feeling, and reacting tend to evoke specific reactions in therapists. Therapists patterns of reactions appeared to be independent of theoretical orientation, suggesting that all therapists tend to have emotional reactions that may affect the therapeutic relationship and patient outcomes. Therapists can manage countertransference by remaining vigilant to their internal reactions, using self-awareness during sessions, consulting with colleagues and supervisors, and engaging in personal therapy.
Therapist Characteristics That Affect Client Outcomes
Lingiardi, V., Muzi, L., Tanzilli, A., & Carone, N. (2017). Do therapists' subjective variables impact on psychodynamic psychotherapy outcomes? A systematic literature review. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy. Advance online publication.
Psychotherapists differ in their effectiveness such that some therapists are more effective than others, and these differences account for up to 9% of client outcomes. Despite this, not many studies have looked at therapist personal characteristics that might be associated with better or worse outcomes. In this systematic literature review, Lingiardi and colleagues focus on empirical studies of psychodynamic therapists and their personal characteristics that might affect therapeutic processes and client outcomes. The authors included only quantitative studies. Thirty studies representing nearly 1,400 therapists and 6,000 clients were included in the review. Most studies occurred in a naturalistic setting, and most therapists were female (66%) with an average of over 9 years of experience. The studies looked at various therapist personal characteristics and their association with therapeutic processes and client outcomes. Therapist attachment security (ability to engage in meaningful loving relationships and adaptively manage emotions) was associated with better client outcomes. Similarly, therapists who reported better experiences of parental care and better quality relationships with attachment figures tended to have clients who rated a more positive therapeutic alliance. In addition, therapist interpersonal functioning was evaluated in several studies. Therapists who were rated as more affiliative (warm, friendly) and less hostile (cold, rejecting) tended to have clients who achieved better outcomes. Further, therapist facilitative interpersonal skills (emotional expressiveness, verbal fluency, warmth, empathy) were associated with better client outcomes in short-term therapy. Finally, several studies assessed therapist self-concept (stable means by which one treats oneself). Therapists who were more hostile or negative toward the self tended to be more critical or ignoring of clients, which lead to poorer client outcomes.
Therapist personal characteristics (attachment security), interpersonal skills (warmth, friendliness, empathy), and self concept (how one treats oneself) may account for why some therapists are more effective than others. Problems in these areas might lead to problematic countertransference (emotional reactions on the part of therapists triggered by client issues) or therapeutic alliance ruptures, both of which are related to poorer client outcomes. Therapists can learn methods of managing countertransference and repairing alliance ruptures. If the personal characteristics are persistent and problematic, therapists might consider personal therapy.
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.
Transference in Psychotherapy: A Review of the Research
Hoglend, P. (2014). Exploration of the patient-therapist relationship in psychotherapy. American Journal of Psychiatry, 171, 1056-1066.
In this overview of patient-therapist relationship factors, Per Hoglend reviews research on transference in psychotherapy. He argues that transference and transference work is a specific technique that focuses on exploring the patient-therapist relationship. Hoglend takes a broad definition of transference as: the patient’s pattern of feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors that emerge in the therapeutic relationship and reflect the patient’s personality functioning. Hoglend also defines transference work as any therapist intervention that refers to or explains the patient’s experience of the therapist and their interaction. These interventions include the therapist: (1) addressing transactions in the patient-therapist relationship; (2) encouraging exploration of feelings and thoughts about the therapy or therapist; (3) encouraging the patient to discuss how he or she believes the therapist might feel or think about the patient; (4) including him or herself in interpreting the patient’s dynamics; and (5) interpreting repetitive interpersonal dynamics and linking these to the therapy relationship. More than 30 studies have been published on providing empirical evidence for the relationship between transference work in psychotherapy and positive patient interpersonal outcomes. Effect sizes of the association between transference work and patient outcomes tend to be large. Some of the research indicates that low frequency of transference interventions is useful, but that a higher frequency may lead to negative effects on the patient. Research on transference-focused psychotherapy indicates that it is as effective as dialectical behavior therapy and supportive psychotherapy for borderline personality disorder, but that transference-focused therapy produced better outcomes for attachment related functioning like mentalizing. In the First Experimental Study of Transference Work (FEST), Hoglend found that patients with low quality of object relations (i.e. a poorer ability to maintain close relationships and to regulate affect) benefited most from transference focused therapy. However, those with high quality of object relations did not require the transference work to get better. Also, women responded better to transference work than men. There are some studies of therapeutic approaches like cognitive behavior therapy, in which patients with depression had better outcomes when the patient-therapist relationship was explicitly discussed.
Hoglend argues that transference work in psychotherapy is an active ingredient that can lead to specific change in some patients. Most studies that Hoglend reviewed showed significant and large associations between transference work and interpersonal changes in patients. Exploring the patient-therapist relationship appears to be most useful for female patients, those with difficult interpersonal relationships, and those with more severe personality pathology. Patients with more mature relationships may not benefit as much from transference work. Although generally effective, if transference work is used too frequently in a session it can also lead to negative patient outcomes.