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
Does a Therapist’s Multicultural Competence Affect Patient Outcomes?
Tao, K. W., Owen, J., Pace, B. T., & Imel, Z. E. (2015). A meta-analysis of multicultural competencies and psychotherapy process and outcome. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 62(3), 337-350.
Cultural factors shape health-related beliefs, behaviors and values. For decades, many have argued that therapist multicultural competence shapes the therapy process and affects patient outcomes. Some therapists have poorer outcomes with patients of racial/ethnic minorities compared to White patients. Multicultural competence refers to the ability to work effectively across many groups including minority groups. In 2008, an American Psychological Association Task Force detailed recommendations for multicultural competencies. Multiculturally competent providers are those who: expand their knowledge of their client’s background, use culturally relevant interventions, and gain awareness of their own assumptions and the impact of these on their therapeutic work. In this meta analysis, Tao and colleagues aimed to assess the relationship between multicultural competence in therapists with therapy processes and client outcomes. They reviewed 18 studies that included over 1600 clients, the vast majority of whom identified as a racial/ethnic minority. Therapist multicultural competence was assessed by client self report. Therapist multicultural competence was highly correlated with therapy processes like: therapeutic alliance (r = .61), client satisfaction (r = .72), and session depth (r = .58). The association between therapist multicultural competence and client symptom outcomes were moderate in size but significant (r = .29). A separate analysis showed that the relationship between multicultural competence and therapy process variables (alliance, satisfaction, depth) were significantly larger that associations with client outcomes.
Therapists’ abilities to integrate aspects of their client’s cultural narrative into their interventions significantly accounted for difference in outcomes. In other words, clients who perceived their therapist as more culturally sensitive had better outcomes. This was likely related to more positive therapeutic processes (i.e., alliance, satisfaction, session depth) between clients and therapist dyads, within which clients perceived the therapist as multiculturally sensitive. A provider’s ability to recognize how their own personal backgrounds influence their own and clients’ behaviors will result in better therapy processes and improved client outcomes.
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The Effect of Therapist Empathy on Client Outcomes
Elliott, R., Bohart, A. C., Watson, J. C., & Greenberg, L. S. (2011). Empathy. Psychotherapy, 48(1), 43.
There has been a recent upsurge in interest in empathy in psychotherapy following scientific studies in the field of social neuroscience. This research has focused on activation in areas of the brain associated with emotional stimulation, perspective taking, and emotion regulation. Conceptualizations of the role of empathy in psychotherapy have a rich history in both client-centered and psychodynamic traditions. Carl Rogers defined empathy in part as “...the therapist’s sensitive ability and willingness to understand the client...from the client’s point of view.” Elliott and colleagues indicate three main modes of expressing therapeutic empathy: empathic rapport (compassionate understanding of the client’s experience); communicative attunement (ongoing effort to stay attuned with the client’s experience); and person empathy (experience-near understanding of the client’s world). In this meta-analysis of research on therapeutic empathy, Elliott and colleagues were interested in the strength of the relationship between therapist empathy and client outcome, and factors that might determine this relationship. Their meta analysis included 57 different studies of 3,599 clients. The relationship between therapist empathy and client outcome was medium-sized (r = .31), and in the same order of magnitude as the alliance-outcome relationship. There were no differences between theoretical orientations in the size of the empathy-outcome relationship – in other words, empathy was equally important across types of therapy. Client measures of therapist empathy had the largest relationship to client outcome, whereas therapist ratings of empathy had the smallest association with client outcomes. In other words, if you are interested in therapist empathy, best to ask the client. Also, the empathy-outcome relationship was larger for less experienced (vs more experienced) therapists and for more severely (vs less severely) distressed clients. That is, empathy likely is most important for newer therapists and more distressed clients.
Therapist empathy is essential to any psychotherapy regardless of orientation. Empathic attunement and expression is particularly important for clients of newer therapists, and for more distressed clients. Elliott and colleagues suggest that the empathic therapist’s primary goal is to understand the client’s experience and to communicate this understanding to the client. This can be done through: empathic affirmations (i.e., validating the client’s perspective); empathic evocations (bringing the client’s experience to life with rich, evocative, and concrete language); and empathic conjectures (making explicit what is implicit in the client’s narrative). Empathy can deepen client’s experiences, but therapeutic empathy also involves individualizing responses to the client. For example, some fragile patients may find typical expressions of empathy as too intrusive, whereas other clients may find therapeutic empathy to be too directive or too foreign. Being attuned to the client’s receptiveness to empathy is an important therapeutic skill. Elliott and colleagues emphasize that empathy should be grounded in authentic caring for the client and as part of a healthy therapeutic relationship.
Are Therapists or Clients Most Responsible for the Therapeutic Alliance-Outcome Relationship?
Del Re, A.C., Fluckiger, C., Horvath, A.O., Symonds, D., & Wampold, B.E. (2012). Therapist effects in the therapeutic alliance-outcome relationship: A restricted-maximum likelihood meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 32, 642-649.
The therapeutic alliance, defined as the agreement on tasks and goals and the bond between therapist and patient, is one of the most researched concepts in psychotherapy. A meta-analysis of over 200 studies showed that the association between the therapeutic alliance and patient outcomes is moderate but robust (i.e., consistent across studies, patient types, and therapy types). Some have stated that the importance of the therapeutic alliance as reported in studies is an under-estimate of its real impact on patient outcomes. Del Re and colleagues argue that the main reason for this underestimation is that while the therapist’s effect on the alliance-outcome relationship might be large, the client’s effect might be quite small, and so the average of these two effects (which is what most studies report) will be diminished. Del Re and colleagues conducted the first meta analysis to assess the relative size of therapist versus client effects across many studies. Their strategy was clever. They looked at the ratio of the number of patients to therapists (PTR) within a study as a “predictor” of the alliance-outcome relationship across studies. This allowed them to examine the relative contribution of therapists and clients to the alliance-outcome relationship. Two extreme examples illustrate this ratio. (1) In one study, many patients might have been seen by only one therapist, in which case the alliance-outcome correlation could only be attributed to differences between clients since there was only one therapist. (2) In another study, each client might have been seen by a different therapist (i.e., there were as many therapists as clients), in which case the alliance-outcome correlation could only be attributed to differences between the therapists; that is, there are no differences between clients seen by the same therapist as this did not occur. The patient to therapist ratio (PTR) captures the variability between these two extreme examples across studies. Del Re and colleagues included 69 studies that provided enough information about the number of patients and therapists. The overall correlation between alliance and outcome was moderate, r = .27, which was very similar to what was found in a previous large meta-analysis. PTR was significantly associated with the alliance-outcome relationship even after controlling for a number of possible confounding variables. Patients accounted for almost 0% of the alliance-outcome relationship, whereas the effect of therapists was substantially larger, r = .40, accounting for 16% of the alliance-outcome association.
Therapists’ capacity to develop an alliance with their patients is associated with outcomes. We also know that some therapists demonstrate better patient outcomes than others. So, therapists who consistently are better at forming alliances with patients likely have patients with better treatment outcomes. The quality of the alliance between patients and therapists appears to be the result of what therapists do or bring to the therapy. And so, on average, the therapist’s role in the alliance is most important for achieving good patient outcomes. Del Re and colleagues note that they were not able to look at the interaction between therapist and patient factors. For example, it may be possible that some therapists might form better alliances some types of patients, but not others. Integrating feedback systems so therapists can monitor the therapeutic alliance and patient outcomes may help therapists identify areas in which they need more training or supervision.
Separation Anxiety in Childhood is Related to Adult Panic and Anxiety Disorders
Kossowsky, J., Pfaltz, M., Schneider, S., Taeymans, J., Locher, C., & Gaab, J. (2013). The separation anxiety hypothesis of panic disorder: A meta-analysis. American Journal of Psychiatry, 170, 768-781.
The concept of separation anxiety is intimately tied to attachment theory. Problematic early attachments have negative consequences for adults’ ability to experience and internalize positive relationships which help to develop mental capacities to self sooth, tolerate anxiety, and modulate affect. Separation anxiety is the persistent, excessive, and developmentally inappropriate fear of separation from major attachment figures, like parents. It is one of the most frequently diagnosed childhood anxiety disorders, with a lifetime prevalence of 4.1% to 5.1%. If we knew that separation anxiety is truly related to or causes adult psychopathology, then we would have a better understanding of the development of adult mental disorders and greater reason to quickly and aggressively treat childhood separation anxiety. A meta analysis by Kossowsky and colleagues (2013) begins to address this relationship between separation anxiety and adult disorders. They looked at case-control, prospective, and retrospective studies comparing children with and without separation anxiety disorder with regard to future panic disorder, major depressive disorder, any anxiety disorder, and substance use disorders. The meta analysis included 25 studies of 14, 855 participants. Children with separation anxiety were 3.45 times more likely to develop a panic disorder later on; and 5 studies suggested that children with separation anxiety were 2.19 times more likely to develop future anxiety disorders. Childhood separation anxiety disorder did not increase the risk of future depressive disorders or of future substance use disorders. In a subsequent paper, Milrod and colleagues (2014) reviewed the literature on separation anxiety and psychotherapy outcomes of adult anxiety and mood disorders. Separation anxiety is associated with poor response to treatment of adult anxiety and mood disorders possibly because separation anxiety disrupts the therapeutic relationship. Separation anxiety also predicted non-response to antidepressant medications.
As Kossowsky and colleagues (2013) indicate, it is possible that children suffering from separation anxiety disorder may be hindered early on in developing skills to help cope with anxiety and strong emotions. Nevertheless, the findings draw our attention to the importance of recognizing and treating separation anxiety as early as possible. A few psychological treatment studies show that disorder-specific parent-child cognitive behavioral therapy is successful in treating separation anxiety in children. For adults, poorer treatment response may reflect difficulty forming and maintaining attachments, including the therapeutic relationship. Milrod and colleagues (2014) suggest that psychotherapies that focus on relationships and separation anxiety by using the dyadic therapist-patient relationship to revisit earlier problematic parent-child relationships may benefit adults with separation anxiety.