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
Cost-effectiveness of Short-term Versus Long-term Psychotherapy
Maljanen, T., Knekt, P., Lindfors, O., Virtala, E., Tillman, P., et al. (2016). The cost-effectiveness of short-term and long-term psychotherapy in the treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders during a 5-year follow-up. Journal of Affective Disorders, 190, 254-263.
There is substantial evidence that short-term psychotherapy is effective for depressive and anxiety disorders, including at follow-up. There are also a few meta-analyses showing the effectiveness of longer term therapy. Although there is research indicating the cost-effectiveness of short-term treatments, less research has evaluated the cost-effectiveness of longer term therapy, and even less research at long term follow-ups. In this study from the Helsinki Psychotherapy Study Group, the authors evaluated the cost-effectiveness of short-term therapy (solution-focused therapy [12 sessions] or short-term dynamic therapy [20 sessions]) versus long term dynamic psychotherapy (2-3 sessions weekly for up to 3 years). Participants (N = 326) with anxiety or mood disorders were randomized to one of the three therapies. Symptoms and work ability were assessed at pre-treatment, post-treatment, and several times during a 5 year follow-up period. A previous publication with this sample showed that long-term treatment resulted in greater recovery with regard to symptoms and work ability (recovery for both outcomes exceeding 60%) compared to short-term treatment (50% recovered). For this study the authors asked: is long-term treatment cost-effective – in other words, is the better outcome from long-term treatment justified by greater cost? Both direct costs (health care utilization) and indirect costs (lost productivity) were calculated in this study using standard econometrics. Long-term therapy cost 3 times as much as short-term treatments. This amount was smaller than expected because those who received short-term treatments had higher auxiliary costs (i.e., the need for other treatments after the short term therapy ended). Shorter therapies were equally cost-effective, but both were more cost-effective than the longer treatment. That is, despite being more effective and requiring less auxiliary treatment, the longer-term therapy was more costly per unit of improvement with regard to symptoms and productivity compared to the shorter treatments.
From an economic point of view, short-term treatments make the most sense. However, given that many patients needed other treatments after the end of short-term therapy, and given that on average the longer-term therapy was more effective in the long run, a clinician may want to weigh the economics with the specific needs and preferences of each patient.
Lying in Psychotherapy: What Clients Don’t Tell Their Therapist
Blanchard, M. & Farber, B.A. (2016). Lying in psychotherapy: Why and what clients don’t tell their therapist about therapy and their relationship, Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 29, 90-112.
Clients’ disclosure of their thoughts and feelings are key aspects of psychotherapy, and trust is at the heart of the therapeutic relationship. However clients are not always honest with their therapist. Clients may keep secrets, hide negative reactions to interventions, minimize, spin, or tell outright lies. In this study, Blanchard and Farber asked: “what do clients lie about in therapy and why”. The authors used a broad definition of dishonesty that included: consciously twisting the facts, minimizing, exaggerating, omitting, and pretending to agree with the therapist. The authors excluded delusions, repression, denial, and other forms of unconscious deception. Blanchard and Farber were particularly interested in client dishonesty about therapy itself and about the therapist. The authors conducted an online survey of psychotherapy clients recruited from a community sample in a U.S. city, and 547 adult clients responded. The sample was surprisingly similar to a therapy-using population reported in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Most clients were women (78%), White (80%), saw a female therapist (71%), received CBT (35.4%) or psychodynamic therapy (18%), and were treated for depression (64%) and/or anxiety (49%) disorders. The survey asked about a wide range of possible topics for dishonesty such as use of drugs or alcohol, desire for revenge, pretending to agree with the therapist, etc. With this broad definition of conscious dishonesty, 93% of clients reported lying to their therapist, in which the average number of topics lied about per client was 8.4 (SD = 6.6). Those who lied more often also reported a general tendency in their lives to conceal negative personal information (r = .45). Only 6.8% of clients reported having told zero lies in therapy. Some topics were highly endorsed by clients – for example, 54% endorsed lying about “how badly I really feel – I minimized”, 25% did not disclose “my thoughts about suicide” and “my use of drugs or alcohol”. Other topics (endorsed by 5% to 25% of clients) included lies about eating habits, self-harm, infidelity, violent fantasies, experiences of physical or sexual abuse, and religious beliefs. About 72.6% of clients lied about at least one therapy-related topic, including: “pretending to like my therapist’s comments or suggestions” (29%), “reason for missing an appointment” (29%), “pretending to find therapy more effective than I do” (28%), “pretending to do the homework” (26%), “my real opinion of the therapist (19%), “not saying I want to end therapy (16%), and “my therapist makes me feel uncomfortable” (13%). Other items were relatively rare in the sample including “my romantic or sexual feeling about my therapist” (5%). Survey respondents were then asked why they were dishonest. Reasons why clients were dishonest included: “wanting to be polite”, “I didn’t want my therapist to feel he was bad at his job”, “I didn’t want to look bad or feel embarrassed”, “I would feel bad if I told her it really didn’t help me”, “wanting to avoid my therapist’s disapproval”, and “wanting to avoid upsetting my therapist”.
Using a broad definition of dishonesty, this study found that 93% of clients did not tell the truth in one way or another to their therapist. Concern about self-judgments (i.e., embarrassment) or external judgments (i.e., avoiding therapist’s disapproval) may lead most clients to be less than honest at some times. Over 70% of clients reported lying about an aspect of therapy itself or of the therapeutic relationship. Clients appear to be particularly sensitive to upsetting or disappointing their therapist. This suggests the importance of therapists monitoring the level of emotional safety, trust, and alliance in the therapeutic relationship. Therapists may have to accept a certain level of dissimulation by clients in the therapy. Engaging in empathy, positive regard, and a focused attention on the therapeutic relationship may be important for therapists in order to overcome a level of fear or distrust among some clients about their self-judgement or the therapist`s judgment. These findings suggest that clients may benefit from therapists who receive training in identifying and resolving therapeutic alliance ruptures.
What is the Therapist’s Contribution to Patient Drop-out?
Saxon, D., Barkham, M., Foster, A., & Parry, G. (2016). The contribution of therapist effects to patient dropout and deterioration in the psychological therapies. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, DOI: 10.1002/cpp.2028.
Sometimes patients experience negative outcomes in psychotherapy. For example, some patients drop out of therapy (i.e., they unilaterally decide to leave therapy before making any progress or before the endpoint planned with the therapist). In a previous meta-analysis of 669 studies, dropout rates ranged from 17% to 26% in psychotherapy trials. In this study, Saxon and colleagues were interested in the therapist effect on drop out. In other words, what is the impact of the individual therapist on negative outcomes like patients unilaterally terminating treatment? To examine the therapist effect one can look at differences between therapists in the average number of patients who drop out within their caseload. The authors looked at over 10,000 patients seen by 85 therapists from 14 sites in the United Kingdom initiative for Improving Access to Psychological Therapies. Therapists were selected if they saw more than 30 patients, and patients were included if they attended more than one session of therapy. Patient mean age was 40.3 (SD = 13.0), 71.2% were women, most were White (95%) and employed (76%). Of all the patients, 76.8% had some level of depression and 82.7% had some level of anxiety. Over 90% of the patients scored in the clinical range for symptom severity at pre-treatment. Patient symptom severity seen by a particular therapist was controlled in this study so that therapists who tended to treat severe cases were not penalized (i.e., case mix was controlled). Patients who dropped out represented 33.8% of the sample, with over half of these patients unilaterally terminating before the third session. The mean number of sessions for treatment completers was 6.1 (SD = 2.68). Therapist differences (i.e., the therapist effect) accounted for 12.6% (CI = 9.1, 17.4) of the patient drop out variance. In other words, about a quarter of therapists had a significantly greater number of drop outs compared to the average therapist. The mean dropout rate for the average therapist was 29.7% (SD = 6.4), the mean dropout rate for the above average therapist was 12.0% (SD = 7.3), whereas the mean dropout rate for the below average therapist was 49.0% (SD = 10.4).
Who a patient gets as a therapist appears to have an important impact on whether the patient remains in therapy. Almost half of clients dropped out if they saw a poorly performing therapist (and nearly a quarter of therapists were poorly performing). By contrast, highly performing therapists only had a 12% drop out rate. Therapist variables that are known to be related to negative outcomes like dropping out include: lack of empathy, negative countertransference, and disagreements with patients about the therapy process. Previous research showed that therapeutic orientation is not related to negative outcomes. Therapists who are perform below average on when it comes to patient dropout might be able to use progress monitoring or some other means of measuring their patients’ outcomes to their advantage. These therapists may require more support, supervision, or training to improve their patients’ outcomes.
Is it Feasible to Have a Nationally Funded Psychotherapy Service?
Community and Mental Health Team, Health and Social Care Information Centre (2015). Psychological therapies; Annual report on the use of IAPT services: England 2014/15.
There have been calls from mental health professional organizations and by the media to provide publicly funded psychotherapy in Canada. Rates of common mental disorders in Canada are high, such that about 20% of the population will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. In 1998, the estimated direct and indirect economic cost of mental illness in Canada was $7.9 billion (all figures are in Canadian dollars). Current estimates of costs to fund a public psychotherapy service in Canada may be about $1 billion to $2.8 billion – which far outweighs the cost. Most outpatient psychotherapy in Canada is provided by professionals in private practice who charge somewhere between $100 and $200 per session, costing Canadians nearly $1 billion per year. Some people are fortunate to have workplace insurance that covers some but not all of the costs, but most people in Canada do not have insurance and so they pay out of pocket or they go untreated. Research shows us that approximately 13 to 18 sessions are needed for 50% of clients to get better with psychotherapy. Which means that even with an insurance plan, many Canadians who need psychotherapy will find it to be a financial burden. Since 2008, the National Health Service in England implemented the Improving Access to Psychotherapies (IAPT) services to provide publicly funded psychotherapy to the population. The psychological treatments provided through IAPT are evidence-based (e.g., CBT, interpersonal psychotherapy, brief dynamic psychotherapy for depression). For mild to moderate problems, individuals get low intensity interventions first (i.e., self help, internet based interventions), followed by more intensive psychotherapy if needed. Treatment outcomes are measured from pre- to post-treatment with valid standardized measures of depression and anxiety. At post-treatment, patients are categorized as reliably deteriorated, not changed, improved, and recovered. The goal of the IAPT is to achieve 50% recovery rates among patients. In their online 2014-15 annual report, the IAPT service reported that it treated over 400,000 patients in that year. 44.8% of patients were rated as reliably recovered – that is over 180,000 mentally ill patients improved and no longer had a mental illness. Reliable improvement was seen in 60.8% of patients – this included recovered patients plus those who still had a disorder but were feeling significantly better than when they started. Recovery was highest for people 65 years and older (57.8%). Rates of recovery were similar for depression (44.6%) and anxiety (47.8%) disorders, and between men and women. Waiting times for treatment was less than 28 days for 66.0% of patients.
The experience in England with the IAPT is instructive for Canada. The IAPT service provides evidence-based psychological therapies within a publicly funded national health service. The IAPT approached its target of 50% of patients recovering from mental illness, and over 60% of patients were reliably improved. Waiting times were low for most patients. Given the experience in England’s National Health Service, the implementation of a national strategy for psychotherapy appears to be feasible and effective. Will political leaders in Canada be able to see the financial and human value of publicly funded psychotherapy?
Barriers to Conducting CBT for Social Phobia
McAleavey, A.A., Castonguay, L.G., & Goldfried, M.R. (2014). Clinical experiences in conducting cognitive-behavioral therapy for social phobia. Behavior Therapy, 45, 21-35.
It might come as a surprise to some that social phobia (also called social anxiety disorder) is the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder, with a lifetime prevalence of about 12%. Symptoms include negative self-view, fear of embarrassment or criticism, and fear and/or avoidance of social situations. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for social phobia with effects as large as pharmacotherapies. Despite this, there are several potential barriers to implementing CBT for social phobia in clinical practice. CBT involves exposure to feared situations (in vivo or simulated), identifying and altering maladaptive thoughts during exposure, producing testable hypotheses, and identifying cognitive errors. CBT is not uniformly effective for all patients with social phobia, exposure techniques are linked to dropping out and failure to initiate treatment, and there can be an increase in missed sessions and non-completion of homework related to avoidance. In this study, McAleavy and colleagues surveyed 276 psychotherapists who provided CBT for social phobia to assess problems or barriers clinicians encountered when applying CBT in practice. Possible barriers listed in the survey were derived from extensive interviews with experts who developed and researched CBT interventions for anxiety disorders. Survey respondents were mostly Ph.D. level clinical psychologists (59%), women (61%), who practiced in outpatient clinics or private practice, and had on average 12 years of post-degree experience. Many therapists reported using behavioral interventions, including developing a fear/avoidance hierarchy, in-session exposures, focusing on behavior in social situations, and specifically focusing on behavioral avoidance. Most also used cognitive homework (i.e., interventions focused on exploring or altering attributions or cognitions). The most frequent therapist endorsed barriers to implementing CBT for social phobia included: patient symptoms (i.e., severity, chronicity, and poor social skills); other patient characteristics (i.e., resistance to directiveness of treatment, inability to work independently between sessions, avoidant personality disorder, limited premorbid functioning, poor interpersonal skills, depressed mood); patient expectations (i.e., that therapist will do all the work; pessimism regarding therapy); patient specific beliefs (i.e., belief that fears are realistic, or that social anxiety is part of their personality); patient motivation (i.e., premature termination, attribution that gains are due to medications); and patient social system (i.e., social system endorses dependency, social isolation). A minority of CBT therapists endorsed a weak therapeutic alliance or aspects of the CBT intervention itself as posing a barrier.
CBT therapists identified a number of barriers, mainly patient related, that might impede the implementation of CBT for social phobia. Given these barriers the authors suggested that therapists: (1) consider more intense, longer, or more specific treatments for more severe cases; (2) incorporate assessment of patient severity to guide decisions; (3) consider tailoring the level of treatment directiveness based on patient characteristics – i.e., more resistant patients may require a less directive approach and more control over the type and pace of interventions; (4) prepare patients on what to expect in the treatment before therapy begins; (5) find a balance between validating/accepting patients’ problematic beliefs that their fears might be realistic with encouragement to change; (6) add motivational interviewing for patients who are less motivated; (6) complete a thorough functional analysis of patients’ social systems at the start of therapy. McAleavey and colleagues noted that while therapeutic alliance difficulties was an infrequently endorsed barrier by therapists, such difficulties remain clinically important, especially in light of findings that indicate that negative reactions to patients are under-reported by therapists. Developing and maintaining a good alliance remains a key aspect of CBT for panic disorder.