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 psychotherapy for borderline personality disorder, capacity to metnalize and therapy resistant depression, and negative effects of psychotherapy
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
Association Between Insight and Outcome of Psychotherapy
Jennissen, S., Huber, J., Ehrenthal, J.C., Schauenburg, H., & Dinger, U. (2018). Association between insight and outcome of psychotherapy: Systematic review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Psychiatry. Published Online: https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17080847
For many authors, one of the purported mechanisms of change in psychotherapy is insight. In fact, the utility of insight for clients with mental health problems was first proposed over 120 years ago by Freud and Breuer. Briefly, insight refers to higher levels of self-understanding that might result in fewer negative automatic reactions to stress and other challenges, more positive emotions, and greater flexibility in cognitive and interpersonal functioning. Although insight is a key factor in some psychodynamic models, it also plays a role in other forms of psychotherapy. Experiential psychotherapy emphasises gaining a new perspective through experiencing, and for CBT insight relates to becoming more aware of automatic thoughts. Jennissen and colleagues defined insight as patients understanding: the relationship between past and present experiences, their typical relationship patterns, and the associations between interpersonal challenges, emotional experiences, and psychological symptoms. In this study, Jennissen and colleagues conducted a systematic review and meta analysis of the insight-outcome relationship, that is the relationship between client self-understanding and symptom reduction. They reviewed studies of adults seeking psychological treatment including individual or group therapy. The predictor variable was an empirical measure of insight assessed during treatment but prior to when final outcomes were evaluated. The outcome was some reliable and empirical measure related to symptom improvement, pre- to post- treatment. The review turned up 22 studies that included over 1100 patients mostly with anxiety or depressive disorders who attended a median of 20 sessions of therapy. The overall effect size of the association between insight and outcome was r = 0.31 (95% CI=0.22–0.40, p < 0.05), which represents a medium effect. Moderator analyses found no effect of type of therapy or diagnosis on this mean effect size, though the power of these analyses was low.
The magnitude of the association between insight and outcome is similar to the effects of other therapeutic factors such as the therapeutic alliance. When gaining insight, patients may achieve a greater self-understanding, which allows them to reduce distorted perceptions of themselves, and better integrate unpleasant experiences into their conscious life. Symptoms may be improved by self-understanding because of the greater sense of control and master that it provides, and by the new solutions and adaptive ways of living that become available to clients.
Author email: Simone.Jennissen@med.uni-heidelberg.de
Therapeutic Alliance in the Treatment of Adolescents
Murphy, R. & Hutton, P. (2017). Therapist variability, patient reported therapeutic alliance, and clinical outcomes in adolescents undergoing mental health treatment: A systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, doi:10.1111/jcpp.12767.
The therapeutic alliance refers to the affective bond between therapist and client, and their agreement on the tasks and goals of therapy. The alliance is a well-known predictor of outcomes in adult psychotherapy with a mean alliance-outcome correlation of r = .28. Less is known about the role of the alliance in the treatment of adolescents. Some reviews indicate that the alliance-outcome relationship in children and adolescents is weaker than observed among adults, but these reviews may have been flawed since they included both children and adolescents in the same review, and the number of studies they reviewed was small. A large rigorous systematic review of adolescents’ perceptions of the alliance can provide insight into their experience of psychological treatment and inform routine mental health practice. In their meta analysis, Murphy and Hutton reviewed studies of clinical samples of adolescents between the age of 12 – 19 who received psychological treatment. The authors made sure that the measures of alliance and outcomes were reliable, they excluded studies of those with medical and neurocognitive problems, and included only studies with adolescents (i.e., excluding studies with primarily children). Twenty-seven studies with almost 3,000 participants were included. Main presenting problems of adolescent patients were: substance use, eating disorders, behavioral difficulties, and a range of mood and anxiety disorders. The mean weighted effect size of the alliance-outcome relationship among studies of psychological treatment of adolescents was r = .29 (95% CI: 0.21, 0.37; p < .001) indicating a moderate effect.
This is the largest meta analysis of the alliance-outcome relationship in the psychological treatment of adolescents with mental health problems. The alliance was moderately associated with outcomes, and so therapeutic alliance may be a reliable predictor of clinical progress in the treatment of adolescents. The findings suggest that those working with adolescents should routinely assess the alliance after each session in order to evaluate if they need to address relational barriers to positive outcomes. For example, if the alliance markedly declines from one session to the next, then clinicians should address potential problems in their relationship with the adolescent client, renegotiate goals, or renegotiate the tasks of therapy.
Has Increased Availability of Treatment Reduced the Prevalence of Mental Disorders?
Jorm, A.F., Patten, S.B., Brugha, T.S., & Mojtabai, R. (2017). Has increased provision of treatment reduced the prevalence of common mental disorders? Review of the evidence from four countries. World Psychiatry, 16, 90-99.
Mental disorders are a major source of disability. However, many individuals remain untreated, such that 36% to 50% of serious cases in industrialized countries went untreated in the previous year. In 2001 the World Health Organization argued for making treatment more accessible and to train more mental health professionals. In this wide-ranging review, Jorm and colleagues look at data from the U.K, the U.S., Canada, and Australia to assess if in fact treatment provision has increased over time, and whether this increase was associated with declines in the prevalence of common mental disorders. In all of the countries surveyed, antidepressant use among those with mental disorders (mainly anxiety and depressive disorders) increased dramatically from 1990 to 2011, such that their use rose by 300% or more during that period. The use of psychotherapy increased in Australia by about 46% among those with a diagnosable disorder. While the rates of psychotherapy-use remained the same in the U.K., they declined dramatically in the U.S. from 71.1% in the late 1980s to 43.1% in 2007 (no data was available from Canada). At the same time however, the prevalence of mental disorders has been increasing or remaining the same in all of the four countries. For example, in England the prevalence of common mental disorders among women went from 18.1% in 1993 to 18.9% in 2007. The authors then speculated as to why the dramatic increase in the use of antidepressants was not followed by a decrease in diagnosed mental disorders. They were able to rule out a number of possibilities like increased reporting of mental illnesses, or an increase in risk factors in the communities involved. The authors did suggest however that antidepressant medications may not be prescribed as intended by primary health care providers. For example, in Australia, only 50% of people prescribed antidepressants receive them as recommended in clinical guidelines. In an Alberta, Canada study, 67.2% of those who reported taking an antidepressant had no active mood or anxiety disorder at the time of the survey. Among those with major depression, only 14.3% reported receiving psychotherapy.
This large review highlights some findings that are already well known: that antidepressant use is dramatically on the rise, and that psychotherapy use is declining slightly over time. This may be due to the quick and easy availability of antidepressant medications, the direct to consumer advertising done by the pharmaceutical industry in some countries, and to a possible cultural need for easy fixes to complex problems. What is new in this review, is that the rise in available antidepressant medications appears not to have made a dent in the rate of mental illness in four industrialized countries.
Combining Medication and Psychotherapy in the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders
Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change: The Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change is perhaps the most important compendium of psychotherapy research covering a large number of research areas related to psychotherapy. Starting in March 2013, I will review one chapter a month 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 can be viewed on Amazon.
Forand, N.R., DeRubeis, R.J., & Amsterdam, J.D. (2013). Combining medication and psychotherapy in the treatment of major mental disorders. In M.J. Lambert (Ed.) Bergin and Garfield’s handbook of psychotherapy and behaviour change (6th ed.), pp. 735-774. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.
This comprehensive chapter covers evidence for combining medication and psychotherapy for several disorders. This month I report on the section of the chapter on anxiety disorders. Monotherapy of medication or psychotherapy are each effective in treating anxiety disorders, though relapse rates can be high. Simultaneously combining medications and psychotherapy is a common practice that is endorsed by several treatment guidelines. Some may also believe that medication and psychotherapy have additive effects or that those who do not respond to one treatment might respond simultaneously to the other. For panic disorder, short term outcomes slightly favour combined therapy of medications (e.g., antidepressants like SSRIs) and psychotherapy (i.e., that often include exposure). However, long term outcome data indicate that combined treatment was no different than cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) alone. There is also evidence that medications may interfere with exposure-based treatment of panic disorder so that relapse is greater with combination therapy. It is possible for example that medications may suppress fear-related cognitions thus preventing encoding of corrective information, and/or medication may inhibit extinction learning by suppressing cortisol secretion (in the short term) that facilitates consolidation of memories. The evidence for combining medication and psychotherapy for social anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and obsessive compulsive disorder are more mixed but still not clearly supportive of long term superiority of simultaneously combining medications and psychotherapy. Other combination approaches appear to show more promise. For example, there is better evidence for starting with a monotherapy initially and adding an alternative therapy for non-responders. Starting with medications first may allow allows cortisol to normalize over time perhaps reducing medication-induced inhibition of extinction learning. Then treatments such as exposure based CBT or brief dynamic therapy for GAD may be additionally helpful to those who do not respond to medication alone. The existing trials tend not to show evidence of incremental benefit of adding medication after initiating psychotherapy. CBT may be effective in helping individuals taper medications while maintaining treatment gains.
Simultaneously combining medication and psychotherapy for anxiety disorders may be common practice. There is an overall lack of evidence that combining treatments improves outcomes, especially in the longer term. Evidence points to medications interfering with the effectiveness of psychotherapy when they are initiated simultaneously. Compared to monotherapy, combined treatments are more complex, time-consuming, expensive, and expose the patient to increased side effect risk. Combination treatments may be best reserved for those who are refractory to initial monotherapy.