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
Psychological and Pharmacological Treatments for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Carl, E., Witcraft, S.M., Kauffman, B.Y., Gillespie, E.M., Becker, E.S…. Powers, M.B. (2019). Psychological and pharmacological treatments for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, DOI:10.1080/16506073.2018.1560358
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive and difficult to control worry about events or activities. GAD is associated with a high level of impairment in social functioning, work productivity, and health-related quality of life. GAD is also associated with a high level of medical costs and health care utilization. About 4.3% of the general population have experienced GAD at one time in their life. In this updated meta-analysis, Carl and colleagues reviewed the empirical literature to compare the effects of psychotherapies and pharmacotherapy to control conditions. Seventy-nine studies with over 11,000 participants were included in the review. In 39 comparisons, evidence-based psychotherapies outperformed control conditions on measures of anxiety at posttreatment (g = 0.76, 95% CI: 0.61–0.91, p < 0.001), suggesting a medium to large effect. Only 12 studies evaluated follow-up data, and they found that psychotherapy resulted in a small but statistically significant average effect on anxiety symptoms (g = 0.27, 95% CI: 0.00–0.53, p = 0.05). Compared to older patients, younger patients tended to do better in psychotherapy. Forty-three studies found that pharmacotherapy consistently outperformed control conditions at post-treatment (g = 0.38, 95% CI: 0.30–0.47, p < 0.001) suggesting a small effect. There were no studies that assessed pharmacotherapy at a follow-up date. Patient age or treatment dose did not affect outcomes of pharmacotherapy. The authors were careful to point out that that the effect sizes of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy were not comparable in this meta-analysis because psychotherapy trials tended to use no-treatment controls whereas pharmacotherapy trials tended to use placebo controls, and the latter tends to produce more conservative (smaller) estimates of effects.
Both psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy appear to be effective by post-treatment for patients with GAD. The effects of psychotherapy at follow-up is diminished, and no studies evaluated whether patients receiving pharmacotherapy maintained any gains at follow-up. Research has suggested that compared to psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy outcomes for depression at follow up is poorer. Although this study does not allow one to compare psychotherapy to pharmacotherapy, evidence from another meta-analysis suggests that patients would strongly prefer psychotherapy if given the choice. And patients receiving their preferred treatment tend to experience significantly better outcomes.
Author email: email@example.com
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
The Importance of Focusing on Problems in Psychotherapy
Yulish, N. E., Goldberg, S. B., Frost, N. D., Abbas, M., Oleen-Junk, N. A., Kring, M., . . . Wampold, B. E. (2017). The importance of problem-focused treatments: A meta-analysis of anxiety treatments. Psychotherapy, 54(4), 321-338.
Typically, meta-analyses indicate that the differences between treatments in client outcomes are small or non-existent. When a treatment is found to be more effective than a comparison condition, it is usually because the treatment (and not the comparison) is focused on the particular problem that is measured as the main outcome variable. The contextual model of change in psychotherapy posits three paths to client change: 1) therapist empathy and the real therapeutic relationship; 2) client expectations related to the therapist’s explanation of the problems and of how the therapy will reduce these problems (e.g., agreement on tasks and goals, which are aspects of therapeutic alliance); and 3) the direct specific interventions of the therapy to address these problems. In this meta-analysis, Yulish and colleagues examine aspects of the second and third component of the contextual model by examining if the difference between treatments for anxiety disorders is due to the relative differences in their focus on symptoms. In this systematic review, the authors identified 135 randomized controlled trials of direct comparisons of psychotherapy for anxiety disorders. They then rated each treatment and control condition for: the amount of explanation provided to clients for their symptoms, the amount of explanation provided to clients for the treatment approach, and the specificity of the interventions to address the symptoms. In a series of meta-regressions the authors found that: 1) explanations for the symptoms and for the treatment approach, and 2) treatments that were more symptom focused resulted in larger treatment effects. When the authors pit explanations against symptom focus to predict outcomes, they found that providing clients with an explanation for symptoms and interventions (which resulted in higher client expectations of receiving benefit) was more important than the symptom focus of the treatment.
This study suggests three mechanisms by which psychotherapy may lead to symptom relief for anxiety disorders: 1) providing clients with a clear explanation of symptoms and of therapeutic interventions, 2) having an agreement about the tasks and goals of therapy (i.e., therapeutic alliance), and 3) engaging in specific therapeutic actions that derive from the explanation of symptoms. Sitting with a client, being warm and accepting, expressing empathy and understanding, but not providing the client an explanation for his or her distress or a means to overcoming that distress may not be good enough. Such approaches may be beneficial for some with anxiety disorders, but they fail to fully make use of the factors that lead to effective therapy. The expectations of benefit created by the explanation of symptoms and interventions, in addition to specific therapeutic actions that are consistent with the explanation, may play a critical role in reducing symptoms of anxiety.
Author email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Can a Unified Protocol Bring Together Diverse Evidence-Based Treatments?
Barlow, D.H., Farchione, T., Bullis, J.R., Gallagher, M.W., Murray-Latin, H.,… Cassiello-Robbins, C. (2017). The unified protocol for transdiagnostic treatment of emotional disorders compared with diagnosis-specific protocols for anxiety disorders: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.2164.
One barrier to disseminating and implementing evidence-based treatments is that therapists have to learn to competently apply many different manualized protocols – at least one for each disorder that they treat (depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and others). Barlow and colleagues argue that it is possible to unify many of these protocols under one umbrella, and so they created a unified protocol for this purpose. The unified protocol is an emotion-focused, cognitive-behavioral intervention that targets temperamental characteristics, particularly neuroticism and emotion dysregulation that underly anxiety, depressive, and related disorders. The unified protocol consists of motivational enhancement followed by 5 treatment modules: (1) mindful emotion awareness, (2) cognitive flexibility, (3) identifying and preventing patterns of emotion avoidance, (4) increasing awareness and tolerance of emotion related physical sensations, and (5) emotion-focused exposure. In this trial, 223 participants with an anxiety disorder (generalized anxiety, obsessive compulsive, panic disorder, or social anxiety disorder) were randomly assigned to the unified protocol, or to the evidence-based treatment specific to the disorder, or to a no-treatment wait-list condition. The sample size was large enough to test a hypothesis of equivalent findings between the two treatment conditions. The differences in changes to symptoms between the unified protocol and the specific interventions for each disorder were small and non-significant at post-treatment and at the follow-up assessments. The treatment conditions were significantly more effective than the wait-list control condition. There were no differences between the treatments in drop-out rates or treatment adherence.
It may be possible for therapists to competently learn to apply a single unified evidence-based treatment for a variety of anxiety disorders that has equivalent outcomes to currently recognized but separate treatment approaches. The unified protocol suggests that the temperamental factors underlying anxiety disorders (emotion dysregulation, emotion avoidance, cognitive inflexibility) can be targeted to treat a wide-range of emotional disorders.
Efficacy of Group Psychotherapy for Panic Disorder
Schwartze, D., Barkowski, S., Strauss, B., Burlingame, G., Barth, J., & Rosendahl, J. (2017). Efficacy of group therapy for panic disorder: Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Group Dynamics, 21, 77-93.
Panic disorder (PD) is characterized by recurrent episodes of intense fear or discomfort accompanied by physical and cognitive symptoms that may include sweating, trembling, or fear of dying. The panic attacks can lead to avoidant behavior that results in isolation, impaired functioning and lower quality of life. Often, those with PD also experience agoraphobia or an intense fear of having a panic attack in public, open spaces, or in a crowd. PD has a lifetime prevalence of 5% among adults in the US. Patients with PD use health care services at a higher rate than the general population, and those with PD may not receive adequate treatment. An evidence-based treatment for PD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Practice guidelines for PD recommend pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy with CBT. However, these practice guidelines do not take into account group therapy for PD. In this meta analysis, Schwartze and colleagues included group treatment studies of PD that were randomized controlled trials (RCT) and in which direct comparisons of group therapy to other treatments were conducted. RCTs of direct comparisons provide the best quality evidence of the efficacy of a treatment approach. The authors included 15 studies (14 of which were of group CBT for panic) that had 864 patients. There was a large significant effect on panic and agoraphobic symptoms favoring group over no-treatment controls (k = 9; g = 1.08; 95% CI [0.82, 1.34]; p = .001). Similar results were found for depressive symptoms and general anxiety symptoms. There was no significant difference between group and alternative PD treatments (pharmacotherapy, individual therapy) on the primary outcomes (k = 6; g = 0.18; 95% CI [-0.14, 0.49]; p = .264). Again similar results were found for depression and anxiety symptoms. In total 78% of patients with PD were symptom-free after group psychotherapy, compared with 33% in no-treatment control groups, and 71% in alternative treatment.
The number of studies were small, but the results of this meta analysis indicate that group therapy is an effective treatment for PD and perhaps as effective as typical alternatives like pharmacotherapy and individual therapy. Group CBT protocols usually involve multiple components such as (a) education regarding the etiology and maintenance of PD, (b) cognitive restructuring (identifying and modifying panic-related cognitions), (c) exposure to external situations (in vivo exposure) or internal bodily sensations (interoceptive exposure), (d) relaxation training and/or breathing retraining. Group therapy may also provide a lower cost, more accessible, and possibly as effective treatment alternative than individual therapy for PD.