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 CBT, negative effects of psychological interventions, and what people want from therapy.
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
Super-shrinks and Pseudo-shrinks: Therapists Differ in Their Outcomes
Okiishi, J., Lambert, M. J., Nielsen, S. L., & Ogles, B. M. (2003). Waiting for supershrink: An empirical analysis of therapist effects. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 10(6), 361-373.
Much of psychotherapy research has focused on searching for effective psychotherapies rather than focusing on effective psychotherapists. Research on psychotherapies generally assumes that therapists are equally effective or relatively less important to patient outcomes than the interventions themselves. Therapists in clinical trials are trained to follow a manual in an attempt to reduce the therapists’ impact on patient outcomes, and to focus the study on the specific ingredients of the therapy itself. However, research indicates that the degree to which a therapist follows a manual has little bearing on patient outcomes, and that therapists do differ in terms of their patients’ outcomes. In one large study, between 33% and 65% of therapists was ineffective or harmful. Okiishi and colleagues asked if it is possible to identify highly effective therapists (“super-shrinks”) and highly ineffective therapists (“pseudo-shrinks”) based on their patients’ outcomes. The therapists were 56 men and women who treated 1779 clients in a university counselling centre. Each therapist saw at least 15 clients, so that there was a good sampling of therapists’ outcomes across a variety of clients. Therapists had a range of experience, training, and theoretical orientations. Clients were adults who had moderate to severe problems with anxiety, depression, or adjustment. Outcomes were measured after every session, and the average number of sessions was 5.16 (SD = 7.20). On average clients improved so that their level of distress significantly declined. Therapist characteristics (sex, experience, training background, theoretical orientation) did not predict patient outcomes. However, client change varied significantly, so that some clients improved at a faster rate than others, some did not change, and some got worse. There were no differences between therapists in their clients’ level of distress, so therapists had equivalent caseloads in terms of client initial distress. However, therapists significantly differed from each other in terms of their clients’ outcomes. For example, the top 3 therapists consistently had clients who got better (super-shrinks), and the bottom 3 therapists consistently had clients who got worse (pseudo-shrinks).
One would hope that a loved one would get to see a “super-shrink” therapist, since these therapists seem to consistently have clients who do well in therapy. But what about the average or “pseudo-shrink” therapist– what can be done to elevate their skills and their patients’ outcomes? We’ve discussed in this blog several things therapists can do to improve their outcomes, including: using progress monitoring in their practice, receiving training focused on deliberate practice, and seeking out specific continuing education around developing, maintaining, and repairing the therapeutic alliance.
Patients’ Experiences With Routine Outcome Monitoring
Solstad, S.M., Castonguay, L.G., & Moltu, C. (2018). Patients’ experiences with routine outcome monitoring and clinical feedback systems: A systematic review and synthesis of qualitative empirical literature. Psychotherapy Research. doi=10.1080/10503307.2017.1326645.
Routine outcome monitoring or progress monitoring involves assessing client outcomes or the therapeutic alliance on a weekly basis in psychotherapy, and then giving feedback to the therapist about how the client is doing relative to the previous week and relative to similar clients. Research on progress monitoring indicates that it improves outcomes and it reduces by half the number of clients who might get worse. Despite its benefits, many therapists are not aware of progress monitoring or are reluctant to use the procedure. Some have expressed concerns that progress monitoring could interfere with the therapeutic relationship. However, very few studies have asked clients about their experiences of progress monitoring. In this synthesis of qualitative studies, Solstad and colleagues reviewed 16 studies in which clients were interviewed about their experiences of progress monitoring. The authors used a procedure in which they identified common themes across the studies and categorized client statements within those themes (e.g., thematic analysis). The authors were interested in identifying what were the hindering and helpful processes in clients’ experiences of their therapists’ use of progress monitoring. Four main themes emerged from the research. First, some clients voiced suspicion of how the progress monitoring data was going to be used and why the procedure was implemented. That is, clients sometimes felt that filling out questionnaires weekly was mainly a bureaucratic exercise, or possibly a means to justify reducing services. Second, some clients felt the questionnaires were not flexible enough to capture the complexity of mental health and of client concerns. The questionnaires often focused on symptoms, but clients were also interested in the therapeutic relationship, family, and social functioning. Third, some clients wanted to be more fully informed about the rationale for progress monitoring so that they could feel more empowered to define their own outcomes and treatment plans. Fourth, some clients found progress monitoring to help them to see graphically their own progress, to become more engaged in treatment planning, and to participate in collaborative and reflective discussions with their therapist.
If psychotherapists choose to use progress monitoring in their practices, they should make sure that clients know what the data will be used for and that the exercise is not just a bureaucratic process. The practice of outcome or progress monitoring can be used to stimulate reflection not only in the therapist but also in the client. Reviewing the client data together might enhance conversations about therapy, the therapeutic relationship, and help to establish realistic goals for therapy. Therapists might consider not only measuring symptom progress repeatedly, but also measuring the working alliance on a regular basis.
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
Continuous Outcome Monitoring and Feedback in a Public Psychotherapy Program
Reese, R. J., Duncan, B. L., Bohanske, R. T., Owen, J. J., & Minami, T. (2014). Benchmarking outcomes in a public behavioral health setting: Feedback as a quality improvement strategy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82(4), 731-742.
Psychotherapy has demonstrated its efficacy in randomized controlled trials. But do these findings in highly controlled studies translate to everyday practice in publicly funded agencies that treat low income clients? Previous research in the US showed that outcomes of treatment-as-usual in public behavioural health agencies are generally not positive, so that only 20 to 35% of clients reliably improved. One approach to improving outcomes is to transport specific evidence-based treatments into practice settings. For example, research on applying CBT for panic and depression in a publicly funded agency resulted in similar outcomes to those achieved in randomized controlled trials. However, an alternative strategy of improving outcomes is to use continuous outcome monitoring, which involves repeated (weekly) measurement of client outcomes with reliable scales, and feedback to therapists on the client’s status relative to previous sessions and relative to other similar clients. Research has demonstrated that this strategy improves client outcomes and reduces the number of clients who deteriorate. In this study, Reese and colleagues examined the outcomes of a large public behavioural health service in the U.S. that treats low-income individuals. The service implemented repeated outcome monitoring of clients with feedback to therapists. Over 5,000 clients mainly with depression, mood, and anxiety disorders were treated by 84 therapists who were licensed at the masters degree or higher. The clients completed the Outcome Rating Scale (a measure of symptom outcome) prior to each session, and the Session Rating Scale (a measure of the therapeutic alliance) after each session. Therapists received two days of training on how to use these measures and on the continuous feedback they were provided in order to improve their treatment of clients and their outcomes. Outcomes from this public behavioural health service were compared to previous large studies in publicly funded settings that implemented specific evidence-based treatments. The findings were similar, with about 42% showing reliable pre- to post-treatment improvement. The results of implementing continuous outcome monitoring with feedback for depressive symptoms were also large and positive (d = 1.34). These effects were similar to benchmarks established in randomized controlled trials of specific psychotherapies.
Continuous outcome feedback enables therapists to identify clients who are not benefiting
from a given treatment, so that clinicians may collaboratively design different interventions or change their interpersonal stances. The inclusion of outcome monitoring and feedback in this publicly funded psychotherapy system, resulted in outcomes that were: better than what is often seen in such public service settings, equivalent to those public systems that implemented specific evidence based treatments, and similar to those reported in highly controlled randomized trials. The authors concluded that adding routine outcome monitoring and feedback is a viable alternative to transporting specific evidence based treatments to publicly funded psychotherapy programs. The measures used in this study are available free for individuals to use at: betteroutcomesnow.com.
Author email: email@example.com
The Partners for Change Outcome Monitoring System
Duncan, B. L., & Reese, R. J. (2015). The Partners for Change Outcome Management System (PCOMS): Revisiting the client’s frame of reference. Psychotherapy, 52(4), 391-401.
Generally, psychotherapy is effective for a wide variety of disorders, but regardless, many clients do not benefit. Further, the research shows that some therapists are more effective than others, but therapists tend to grossly over-estimate their effectiveness. In one large survey, therapists reported that their outcomes were better than 75% of their peers, no therapist rated themselves as below average, and therapists tended to over-estimate their effectiveness and under-estimate client deterioration. One way to evaluate patient outcomes and processes is to engage in progress monitoring and feedback. This involves repeated brief assessments of client outcomes followed by real-time feedback to therapists to gauge client progress and signal potential problems. Several such systems exist including the Outcome Questionnaire-45.2 and the Partners for Change Outcome Management System (PCOMS). The PCOMS is made up of the Outcome Rating Scale (ORS) and the Session Rating Scale (SRS). The ORS measures distress in 3 atheoretical domains (personal, family, social) not based on diagnosis. The SRS is a measure of therapeutic alliance. Both the ORS and SRS are very short 4-item scales that can be administered before (ORS) and after (SRS) each session of therapy. In this paper, Duncan and Reese review the research supporting the use of the PCOMS. A meta analysis found that clients whose therapists received feedback with the PCOMS were 3.5 times more likely to experience reliable change and had less than half the chance of experiencing deterioration. Five randomized controlled trials demonstrated the advantage of the PCOMS over treatment as usual, including by reducing drop outs and achieving reliable change in fewer sessions.
A lot of research has demonstrated that most therapists over-estimate their effectiveness and that many are not able to identify clients who are getting worse. It is time for therapists to acknowledge this positive bias of their effectiveness and their need for quality information in order to make good clinical decisions. Progress monitoring and feedback systems are one means by which therapists can receive quality information. The repeated use of the PCOMS for example, can help to identify when clients begin to deteriorate and/or when problems emerge with the therapeutic alliance. Being able to identify these issues early may allow therapists to act quickly to avert client deterioration or drop out.
Why Therapists Tend Not To Use Progress Monitoring
Miller, S. D., Hubble, M. A., Chow, D., & Seidel, J. (2015). Beyond measures and monitoring: Realizing the potential of feedback-informed treatment. Psychotherapy, 52(4), 449-457.
Progress monitoring is the process of repeatedly assessing client functioning with validated measures and providing feedback to therapists. The feedback is designed to identify problems with the therapeutic relationship or with client deterioration by comparing client progress to similar clients. This allows therapists to change what they are doing, renegotiate aspects of therapy, or directly address the issues. Research is clear that progress monitoring significantly increases the proportion of clients who improve, reduces drop outs by a third, shortens the length of therapy, and reduces costs. Yet the research also indicates that only 12% of psychologists are using progress monitoring in their practice. If progress monitoring is so useful, then why aren`t more therapists using it? In this review, Miller and colleagues discuss some of the barriers and problems with using or adopting progress monitoring in clinical practice. They describe that even in the most favorable circumstances, it takes about two decades for new treatments to be integrated into routine care. Another issue is that recent surveys indicate that only about 33% of psychologists and 66% of training directors are aware of progress monitoring. Even for those who are aware, a common barrier might be cost and time to implement the procedures. Despite the brevity and low cost of the tools, like the PCOMS, they all place an additional burden on clinicians’ busy schedule. There is also the issue of staff turnover. As staff come and go, organizations may lose those who lead, train, and support the use of progress monitoring. Probably the biggest barrier is skepticism on the part of clinicians who might see the tools as too superficial, or who might be concerned that repeated measurement may somehow negatively affect the therapeutic relationship. However, research indicates that clients generally report positive experiences – they like being a more integral part of the assessment process, and they appreciate the ability to track their own progress. Finally, whereas clinicians may use progress monitoring to improve clinical decision-making, administrators may see it as a means of conducting performance reviews.
In most health care fields, it can take 20 years for an innovation to make it into routine practice. That might be the case for progress monitoring. More clinicians need to know about it, be trained in its use, and see for themselves that the information is valid, of high quality, and that it can supplement their work in identifying clients who are not doing well. In particular, progress monitoring may be a means of enhancing the therapeutic alliance as it provides therapists and clients a vehicle to discuss how the therapy is going, what needs focus, and what to do if things go awry. Organizations need to treat progress monitoring as a means of helping therapists to improve their skills, and not as a means of auditing performance. Therapists need quality information upon which to make sound clinical decisions, and progress monitoring is one way of receiving this information.