Clients of Therapists Who Are Flexible Have Better Outcomes
Katz, M., Hilsenroth, M. J., Gold, J. R., Moore, M., Pitman, S. R., Levy, S. R., & Owen, J. (2019). Adherence, flexibility, and outcome in psychodynamic treatment of depression. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 66(1), 94–103.
Psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral (CB) treatments are quite different in how therapy is delivered, but both are equally effective for depression. Such findings suggest that various types of specific interventions can positively impact client outcomes. A possible mechanisms of therapeutic action is that effective therapists may be particularly responsive to their clients’ behaviors and needs. That is, effective therapists may be flexible in how adherent they are to the techniques of a therapeutic orientation. Therapists who are flexible in their adherence to a therapeutic technique may promote a better therapeutic alliance (i.e., a therapist’s and client’s collaborative agreement on the goals of therapy and what to do in therapy). In this study, Katz and colleagues examined whether the flexible use of some CB techniques by psychodynamic therapists was related to better client outcomes in terms of depressive symptoms. Forty six patients diagnosed with depression were treated by 26 advanced graduate student therapists who were trained to practice psychodynamic therapy. Psychodynamic therapy techniques included: a focus on affect and affect expression, identifying relational patterns and patterns of thoughts and feelings, emphasizing past experiences and interpersonal relationships, working on the therapeutic alliance, and restructuring defense mechanisms. The researchers video recorded two early sessions of therapy which were independently rated to assess the degree to which therapists adhered to psychodynamic therapy principles or to CB therapy principles. Client depression outcomes were assessed pre- and post-therapy. Higher ratings of psychodynamic therapy adherence were related to better patient depression outcomes at post-treatment. In addition, the clients of psychodynamic therapists who used some CB techniques early in therapy had the best outcomes. In other words, the use of psychodynamic techniques was sufficient for clients to improve, but flexible use of some CB techniques by psychodynamic therapists provided added benefit. The CB techniques that were most often integrated by the therapists included: actively initiating topics and therapeutic activities, explaining the rationale of an intervention, focusing on the future, and providing psychoeducation about symptoms.
Clients in this study improved on average from psychodynamic therapy, and psychodynamic interventions were related to better outcomes. However, clients of therapists who flexibly integrated a small amount of CB techniques benefitted more from the psychodynamic techniques. Research is increasingly showing that therapist flexibility in treatment adherence is related to better patient outcomes. For psychodynamic therapists, flexibility in treatment adherence leads to clients being more responsive to the interventions and having better outcomes.