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
Predicting Not Starting and Dropping Out From Publicly Funded Psychotherapy
Andrzej Werbart & Mo Wang (2012). Predictors of not starting and dropping out from psychotherapy in Swedish public service settings, Nordic Psychology, 64, 128-146.
There are few empirical studies looking at patients who are offered but who do not take up psychotherapy. This is a particularly important issue in publicly funded psychotherapy programs in which large numbers of patients who need mental health services to not access the service or leave before receiving adequate treatment. Evidence from the Improving Access to Psychotherapy (IAPT) program in the United Kingdom suggests that about half of patients who are offered psychotherapy either do not take it up or drop out prematurely and unilaterally. Knowledge about what determines treatment rejection or dropping out is critical in designing and developing publicly funded psychotherapy so that not only access but also patient outcomes are improved. In this study from the national Swedish psychotherapy program that is publicly funded, Werbart and colleagues looked at data from 13 clinics in which 189 therapists treated almost 1400 patients. Therapists were experienced (median experience = 5 years), and most received advanced psychotherapy training. Patients had a wide array of problems and severity. Of the patients, 13.6% never started therapy even though they were referred and assessed for treatment, and of those who started 17.4% dropped out of treatment. So a total of 31% never received adequate treatment and did not benefit for psychotherapy. Patients who never started therapy tended to be younger, unemployed, and with higher levels of mental illness. Patients who remained in therapy once they started tended to be older, had more problems with trauma or loss, and had more severe illness although they were not a danger to themselves or others. Never starting treatment and dropping out were both associated with clinics that had greater institutional instability. Clinic instability was defined as a clinic with: unclear treatment goals and guidelines, not well adapted to providing psychotherapy, unclear policies around who and how therapy is conducted, less cooperation among professionals, and financial problems.
Jurisdictions around the world, including in Canada, are looking to offer publicly funded psychotherapy, yet there is little research to guide how to improve uptake and retention of patients within the system. Such systems might focus pre-therapy efforts to retain patients who are younger and with greater mental health problems. In particular, public systems need to pay attention to clinic and institutional stability. How patients experience the clinic environment (as welcoming and integrated), how treating professionals cooperate, the clarity and structure of treatment guidelines and goals, and the financial stability of a clinic all appear to have an impact on whether patients actually access and complete a course of psychotherapy.
Therapists’ Perspectives on Psychotherapy Termination
Westmacott, R. & Hunsley, J. (2017). Psychologists’ perspectives on therapy termination and the use of therapy engagement/retention strategies. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 24, 687–696.
The average psychotherapy client attends a median of about 3 to 5 sessions, which is substantially less than the number of sessions the average client needs to realize a clinically significant decline in symptoms. Premature termination (clients ending therapy unilaterally) occurs in 19% of cases in research trials and in as many as 38% of clients in community practices. And so premature termination is mental health problem for clients and an economic problem for therapists and agencies. Clients terminate therapy prematurely for a variety of reasons including: dissatisfaction with therapy or the therapist, achieving their goals, and practical barriers (appointment times, travel, cost). Therapists tend to underestimate the proportion of unilateral terminations from their practice, and underestimate negative outcomes and client negative perceptions of therapy and therapists. In this study, Westmacott and Hunsley, surveyed psychologists who provide psychotherapy (N=269) on their perspectives on their clients’ reasons for termination and the strategies they use to retain their clients in therapy. Therapists reported that 33.3% of their clients terminated prematurely, which is somewhat lower than the percentage reported in previous research. Most psychologists (65.7%) tended to attribute the most important reasons for premature termination before the third session to clients’ lack of motivation to change (rated as very important or important on a scale). A much smaller percentage (15.8%) attributed waiting too long for services as the most important reason for premature termination before session 3. The most important reason for premature termination after the third session was most often attributed to clients reaching their treatment goals (54.8%). Regarding strategies to retain clients - almost all psychologists (96.8%) indicated that they fostered a strong alliance, 74.3% indicated that they negotiated at treatment plan, 58.0% prepared clients for therapy, 38.7% used motivational enhancement strategies, 33.0% used client outcome monitoring, and 17.8% used appointment reminders.
This survey of psychologists suggests that psychotherapists may somewhat underestimate the number of clients who prematurely terminate therapy. Psychotherapists may also overly attribute dropping out to client-focused factors (low motivation, achieving outcomes), rather than therapist-focused factors (dissatisfaction with therapist or therapy), setting-focused factors (negative impression of the office and staff), or practically-focused factors (appointment times, cost). Many therapists reported using alliance-building and negotiating a treatment plan to retain clients. However, few therapists used other evidence-based methods like systematic outcome monitoring, and fewer still used appointment reminders. Therapists should consider therapist-focused and setting-focused reasons for client termination, and to use outcome monitoring and appointment reminders to reduce drop-outs from their practices.
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.
Costs and Benefits of Funding Psychological Services as Part of Medicare in Canada
Vasiliadis, H-M., Dezetter, A., Latimer, A., Drapeau, M., & Lesage, A. (2017). Assessing costs and benefits of insuring psychological services as part of Medicare for depression in Canada. Psychiatric Services in Advance.
About 20% of the population have a mental disorder like depression during their lifetime, and depression is associated with a number of negative health outcomes like mortality, health system costs, and low quality of life. Most patients prefer psychotherapy over medications, but there are significant barriers to accessing psychotherapy, with cost as the biggest barrier. Recently in the United Kingdom, a cost-benefit analysis was used to argue that the development of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) program would pay for itself in five years. The IAPT is a system of reimbursing psychological therapies through the publicly funded National Health Service in the UK. Similar models are in place in France and Australia. Vasiliadis and colleagues also conducted an economic study in Canada to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of providing psychological services as part of Canada`s Medicare system. They did so by using economic modeling of incidences of depression among patients over a 40-year period, and assessing the relative costs and outcomes of increasing publicly funded access to psychotherapy compared with the status quo. They used known incidence rates for depression in the adult population (2.9%), and estimated health service use from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CHS), and estimated costs (hospitalizations, GP visits, specialist visits, seeing a psychologist or counsellor, antidepressant prescriptions) from provincial health billing manuals. They also used the existing research literature to estimate the average effects of psychotherapy for depression on various outcomes (quality of life, suicide and attempts, health service use, etc.). Adequate mental health services for depression was defined as either 8 sessions of psychotherapy or use of antidepressants. They found that 36.7% of Canadians with depression did not use mental health services, and only 67.4% of those who did access treatment received adequate care. In the economic models that were tested, increasing access to care resulted in a projected decrease in depression, suicidality, health system and societal costs. Increasing access would cost an additional $123 million per year, but savings to society in terms of reduced health system costs and increased productivity was $246 million per year. In other words, for every $1 spent by Medicare on psychotherapy, Canada would recoup $2 in reduced costs and increased productivity.
The findings of this Canadian study echo those of similar economic studies done in the UK, France, and Australia. Increasing access to psychotherapy for depression through Medicare is more effective and less costly than the status quo. In fact this Canadian study may underestimate potential gains because it did not account for the increased use of the health system by depressed people with chronic medical conditions. Currently, public expenditures for mental health and addictions in Canada account for only 7.2% of the total health budget. An increase of 0.07% of the total health budget to cover psychological services would result in health care cost savings, improved mental health, reductions in disability, and increased productivity among Canadians.
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?
Psychotherapy Reduces Hospital Costs and Physician Visits
Abbass, A., Kisely, S., Rasic, D., Town, J.M., & Johansson, R. (2015). Long-term healthcare cost reduction with Intensive Short-term Psychodynamic Psychotherapy in tertiary psychiatric care. Journal of Psychiatric Research, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2015.03.001
Several years ago Lazar (2010) published a book detailing the cost-effectiveness of psychotherapy for a variety of disorders. That is, her systematic review found that on most economic indicators (lost income, decreased disability, decreased health utilization) psychotherapy resulted in an immediate cost reduction over and above the cost of the treatment. In this study from Halifax, Canada, Abbass and colleagues looked at the effects of psychotherapy, specifically of Intensive Short-term Dynamic Psychotherapy (ISTDP), on the long-term reduction in hospital costs and physician visits. Abass and colleagues argue that adverse childhood events are an important determinant of adult mental health problems and of increased costs to the health system likely because of the consequence of problems with emotion regulation. Psychotherapies like ISTDP specifically address issues that are a consequence of childhood maltreatment and so might reduce some of the consequent health care costs. Abbass and colleagues provided ISTDP to 890 patients in the Halifax health care system who were referred to the psychotherapy service from emergency departments, physicians, and mental health providers. These patients’ outcomes were compared to 192 patients not seen by the clinic for various reasons. Most common diagnoses of the total sample were: somatoform disorder, anxiety disorder, personality disorder, and depressive disorder. Participant completed measures of psychological distress, and the research team were able to access provincial health usage data tracked over 3 years. Fifty eight therapists of various skill levels (psychiatrists, psychologists, family physicians, trainees) provided ISTDP. The average patient attended 7.3 sessions which cost $708 (estimated by salaries in 2006). Patients receiving psychotherapy had physician and hospital costs that decreased from $3,224 to $4759 in Canadian dollars per year over three years (again in 2006 dollars). Patients in the control condition not receiving ISTDP showed health care costs that increased from $368 to $2,663 per year. These trajectories of health care costs were significantly different. Yearly physician and health care costs for patients prior to being treated with ISTDP were greater than those of the general Canadian population, but 3 years post ISTDP their health care costs were less than the general Canadian population. In addition, compared to control patients those treated with psychotherapy showed a significant reduction in psychological distress.
This study by Abbass and colleagues demonstrates that short term psychotherapy provided to a broad range of patients and targeting health and illness behaviors related to problems with emotion regulation can reduce health care costs. These reductions in hospital and physician visits occurred in the short term and were sustained over several years. Some patients may require longer treatment, but the evidence suggests that short term interventions should be tried first.
Author email: email@example.com