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
Child Abuse and Mental Disorders in Canada: A Population Survey
Afifi, T. O., MacMillan, H. L., Boyle, M., Taillieu, T., Cheung, K., & Sareen, J. (2014). Child abuse and mental disorders in Canada. Canadian Medical Association Journal, cmaj-131792.
Childhood adversity, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, and loss of an attachment figure early in life is well known to result in a number of health and mental health problems later in life. Afifi and colleagues refer to child abuse at a significant public health problem worldwide. Despite the well known effects of child abuse, until recently there has been little research on the estimates of abuse and its outcomes in Canada. In their study, Afifi and colleagues looked at three types of child abuse (physical abuse, sexual abuse, and intimate partner violence) and its effects on 14 mental conditions including suicide and substance abuse. The authors used data from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey that included a representative sample of respondents aged 15 years and older living in the 10 provinces representing over 25,000 Canadians. The household survey response rate was close to 80%, and those over the age of 18 (N = 23,395) were asked about child abuse that occurred before the age of 16. Physical abuse was defined as any instances of being slapped, punched, kicked, burned etc. Sexual abuse was defined as being forced into any unwanted sexual activity by being threatened. Exposure to partner violence was classified as having seen or heard parents, step-parents, or guardians hitting each other. The prevalence of any of these 3 types of child abuse was 32.1%, with physical abuse being most common (26.1%), followed by sexual abuse (10.1%) and exposure to intimate partner violence (7.9%). Women were more likely than men to have experienced childhood sexual abuse (14.4% versus 5.8%) and exposure to intimate partner violence (8.9% versus 6.9%) as children. Men were more likely than women to have experienced child physical abuse (31.0% versus 21.3%). All forms of child abuse were associated with an increase in later mental illness, such that those who experienced any form of child abuse were over 3 times more likely to have a later mental illness. Obsessive–compulsive disorder was associated specifically with sexual abuse, eating disorders were specifically associated with physical abuse, post traumatic stress disorder was specifically associated with sexual abuse and certain types of physical abuse. All 3 types of abuse were associated with drug abuse/dependence, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. Exposure to a higher number of abuse types (i.e., sexual abuse, physical abuse, and intimate partner violence) was associated with more mental illnesses, and the effect was worse for women.
Child abuse is an important public health problem in Canada and is associated with a number of mental health problems in adulthood. Health care providers should be aware of the relation between specific types of child abuse and certain mental conditions. Clinicians working in the mental health field should acquire skills in assessing patients for exposure to abuse, and should understand the implications for treatment.
Organizational Instability May be Related to Premature Termination from Psychotherapy
Werbarta, A., Andersson, H., & Sandell, R. (2014). Dropout revisited: Patient- and therapist-initiated discontinuation of psychotherapy as a function of organizational instability. Psychotherapy Research, Online first publication: DOI: 10.1080/10503307.2014.883087.
Premature termination of psychotherapy in mental health care is a problem both in terms of patient outcomes and in terms of financial consequences for providers. Drop out rates for psychotherapy in general range from 20% to 75% with an average of 50%. In my April, 2013 blog I reported on a meta analysis by Swift and Greenberg (2012) in which they reported an overall drop out rate of 20% in randomized control trials; but the average drop out rate could be up to 38% in randomized trials depending on how premature termination was defined (failure to complete a treatment, attending less than half of sessions, stopping attending, or therapist judgment). Drop outs are commonly believed to represent therapeutic failures. Much of the research to predict psychotherapy non-completion has focused on patient variables like age, gender, symptom severity and others. This implicitly puts the responsibility for dropping out on the patient. Swift and Greenberg (2012) found that on average young, male, single patients with a personality disorder diagnosis were more likely to drop out. Therapist variables are less frequently studied, and the only therapist variable related to lower drop out was greater experience. Therapeutic orientations were not related to more or less dropping out. Very few studies have examined work conditions or organizational variables as predictors of premature terminations. Werbata and colleagues (2014) conducted a large study in 8 clinics in Sweden with 750 patients treated by 140 therapists. The clinics were three psychiatry outpatient units, three specialized psychotherapy units, one young adult psychotherapy unit, and one primary care setting that provided psychotherapy. Drop out was defined as unilateral termination in which either the patient or therapist discontinued the treatment. Of the patients who started therapy, 66% completed treatment and 34% terminated prematurely (19.7% of patients terminated the therapy, 14.3% were terminated by therapists). On average, clients were in their mid-30s, and most had a psychiatric diagnosis. The most common therapy was psychodynamic (59.1%) followed by integrative (19.0%), and cognitive behavioral (17.1%). The authors looked at patient variables (e.g., symptom severity), therapist variables (e.g., age, gender, etc.), and organizational stability. Ratings of organizational stability of the clinic were based on: the transparency of the clinic structure, the suitability of the organization to provide psychotherapy, the clarity of rules and decision-making policies regarding providing psychotherapy, and the clinic’s financial stability. Client variables such as: older age, greater level of psychopathology, and tendency to act out were moderately predictive of dropping out. Receiving treatment at a less stable clinic made it almost four times more likely for patients to initiate dropping out than to remain in therapy. Organizational instability was more important than patient factors in accounting for premature termination.
Drop outs were almost four times higher in unstable clinics. Instability in organizations can create anxiety, cynicism, and disengagement in staff, which may have consequences for patient care. Financial and political problems within a clinic or institution, internal conflict related to treatment policy or disruptive administrative routines may affect the therapeutic relationship, which is generally more intimate and more important than in other health care contexts. Organizational instability can result in shortened or interrupted treatment, change in therapists, or therapists who are not fully engaged due to clinic stresses. For patients, these terminations may resemble earlier life losses or neglect that may have precipitated their need for therapy in the first place.
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy Reduces Threat Response in the Brain
Johnson, S.M, Burgess Moser, M., Beckes, L., Smith, A., Dalgliesh… Coan, J.A. (2013). Soothing the threatened brain: Leveraging contact comfort with emotionally focused therapy. PLoS ONE 8(11): e79314. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079314.
Attachment theory argues that a felt sense of connection to others provides a secure base and safe haven, thus increasing one’s tolerance for uncertainty and threat. Improved access to and experience of social resources likely help us regulate negative emotions thus reducing our perception of threat. In a previous study, women in a couple were confronted with a threat (the possibility of a shock to the ankle) while their brain was scanned by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). These women were either holding the hand of their spouse or the hand of a stranger. Women with the highest quality relationships showed lower threat response in the brain especially while they held the hand of their spouse. Holding the hand of a spouse with whom they had a loving relationship reduced the fear response in these women measured directly in the brain by fMRI. In the study by Johnson and colleagues (2013) the authors wanted to see if improving attachment relationship between couples following Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) would result reduced responses to threat measured in the brain. Twenty-three couples completed a course of EFT (23 sessions on average) with experienced therapists. EFT is an evidence based couples treatment that conceptualizes couple distress as caused by unmet attachment needs. When feeling emotionally disconnected, partners in a couple may be anxiously blaming or withdrawing, and this pattern exacerbates relationship distress and threat. EFT focuses on repairing attachment bonds between spouses. In this trial, EFT significantly improved couples’ self reported distress from pre to post therapy. The brain of the female member of the couple was scanned in an fMRI before and after EFT. An electrode was fixed to her ankle, and she was threatened with a mild shock. This procedure took place while she was on her own and while she held her partner’s hand. Threat response was measured by activity in the prefrontal cortex and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, both of which are associated with processing threat cues and negative affect. EFT resulted in a decrease activity in these areas of the brain from pre to post couples treatment, and these results were especially prominent during hand holding with the partner.
There is emerging evidence that the effects of psychotherapy like EFT for couples, has a direct impact on the brain that correlates with patients’ self report. In addition, EFT appears to increase the attachment bond between couples and this helps them to regulate their emotions and to moderate their reactions to threat. This study by Johnson and colleagues (2013) also supports some fundamental tenets of attachment theory – that increasing attachment security is possible with psychotherapy and doing so improves affect regulation as measured in the brain. This has broad implications because strong social and attachment bonds help us live longer and enjoy better health.
Author email: email@example.com
Do Psychotherapists with Different Orientations Stereotype Each Other?
Larsson, B. P., Broberg, A. G., & Kaldo, V. (2013). Do psychotherapists with different theoretical orientations stereotype or prejudge each other? Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 1-10.
A remarkable difference between the field of psychotherapy and other health care or scientific areas is that psychotherapy is organized in different and somewhat competing theoretical orientations or schools. Leading thinkers of psychotherapy integration, have emphasized how this division presents an obstacle to integration and therefore to progress within the practice and science of psychotherapy. One of these obstacles could be persistent stereotypes that psychotherapists might have about other therapists who practice from a different theoretical orientation. Social psychologists have long known that people in one group (e.g., an in-group) may misjudge or stereotype people in other groups (e.g., out-groups). Stereotypes may be negative if members of an in-group hold a positive bias toward their in-group coupled with antagonism toward members of an out-group. Do psychotherapists stereotype other therapists who practice from a different theoretical orientation? A recent study by Larsson and colleagues addressed this question. They surveyed 416 therapists divided into four ‘pure’ self-reported schools: 161 psychodynamic therapists, 93 cognitive therapists, 95 behavioural therapists, and 67 integrative/eclectic therapists. Most were women (76%), mean age was in the mid 50s, mean experience was 5 to 10 years, and they represented a variety of disciplines including psychology, psychiatry, social work, and nursing. In the first section of the survey, therapists indicated what focus they deemed most important to their own psychotherapeutic work, including: (1) therapeutic relationship, (2) patient’s thoughts, (3) patient’s feelings, (4) patient’s behaviour, or (5) connection between the patient’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Therapists then estimated how they thought psychotherapists from other orientations would rate each of these foci. In the second section of the survey, therapists completed scales about what they deemed were important aspects of psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioral, and eclectic/integrative therapy, respectively. Once again, they rated how they thought therapists from the other orientations would respond. Self-ratings of therapists within each orientation indicated the ‘true’ (i.e., prototypical) opinions of each orientation. The differences between ‘true’ opinions of the in-group versus the in-group’s ratings of therapists from other orientations (i.e. of the out-group) indicated the level of misjudgement or stereotyping. Of the 18 areas on which out-groups were rated, 11 were significantly misjudged by the in-group. Eclectic/integrative therapists were much less likely to stereotype therapists of cognitive or psychodynamic orientations, who were equally likely to stereotype others. The belief that one’s own orientation compared to others is better characterized as an applied science (a belief endorsed most often by cognitive therapists) was a statistically stronger predictor of stereotyping than orientation per se.
Some researchers argue that different orientations are more similar in their practice of psychotherapy than theory would predict. Furthermore, research about common factors in psychotherapy suggests that these factors may be more important than techniques specific to a school of psychotherapy. However, as long as there are different therapeutic orientations there will likely remain a tendency among some psychotherapists to search for differences rather than to look for similarities between their own and other orientations. This may lead to stereotyping (i.e., an inaccurate opinion about therapists of other orientations), and perhaps negative stereotyping. Psychotherapists and researchers may want to keep in mind the tendency to stereotype clinicians from other orientations when talking to or about other psychotherapists. Such stereotyping is likely an impediment to good client care and research.
Author email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Helpful and Hindering Events in Psychotherapy
Castonguay, L.G., Boswell, J.F., Zack, S., Baker, S., Boutselis, M., Chiswick, N., Damer, D., Hemmelstein, N., Jackson, J., Morford, M., Ragusea, S., Roper, G., Spayd, C., Weiszer, T., Borkovec, T.D., & Grosse Holtforth,, M. (2010). Helpful and hindering events in psychotherapy: A practice research network study. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, and Training, 47, 327-344.
There are many reasons why I like this paper, and one reason is that it is a psychotherapy practice research network study (most of the co-authors are independent practice clinicians). This group of clinicians and researchers met on a number of occasions to define the research questions, including: “what do psychotherapists and clients find most and least helpful in a psychotherapy session?”; and “do psychotherapists and clients agree on what was most and least helpful?” The clinicians and researchers also discussed and agreed on the method for collecting and analysing the data. Thirteen independent practice clinicians participated (6 CBT, 4 psychodynamic, and 3 experiental/humanistic). For a period of 18 months, all new clients were invited to participate so that 121 clients with a variety of disorders enrolled in the study. Clients and therapists filled out (on an index card) parts of the Helpful Aspects of Therapy (HAT) measure, which asked them to report, describe, and rate particularly helpful and hindering events from the session they had just completed. For example clients and therapists were asked: “Did anything particularly helpful happen during this session?”; and “Did anything happen during this session which might have been hindering?” When participants answered “Yes” to either of these questions, they were asked to briefly describe the event(s), and then rate them on a scale from 1 to 4 for level of helpfulness or level of hindrance. Both clients and therapists did so at the end of every therapy session. Close to 1500 therapeutic events were recorded by the clients and therapists. The events were then coded and categorized according to type of event by independent raters using an established coding system. Clients rated self-awareness, problem clarification, and problem solution as the most helpful type of events, although self-awareness was significantly the most identified of all helpful events by clients. Therapists rated self-awareness, alliance strengthening, and problem clarification as the most helpful type of events. Therapists identified self-awareness and alliance strengthening significantly more often than any other helpful events. Hindering events were identified much less frequently by clients and therapists. Client identified poor fit (e.g., therapist tried something that didn’t fit the client’s experience) as the most frequent hindering event category. Therapists identified therapist omissions (i.e., failure to provide support or an intervention) as the most frequent hindering event category. Overall, with the exception of self-awareness, therapists and clients did not agree on what were the most helpful or hindering events in therapy.
Results regarding self awareness indicate that providing clients with opportunities to achieve a clearer sense of their experience (e.g., emotions, behaviors, and perceptions of self) is frequently reported as beneficial by both clients and therapists. The events that therapists most frequently reported as detrimental were those in which they failed to be attuned to their clients’ needs. This may reflect therapists’ concerns with potential alliance ruptures. The overall lack of agreement between therapists and clients on helpful and hindering events raises the question about whether therapists are not aware enough of clients’ experiences, or whether clients are not knowledgeable about what is in fact therapeutic. Perhaps client and therapist ratings of events represent complementary perspectives on what works or does not work in psychotherapy. Regarding participating in research, these independent practice therapists reported that the procedure of writing down helpful and harmful events and reading what their clients wrote after each session had a positive impact on their practice. That is, the process of data collection became immediately relevant to their clinical work.
Author email: email@example.com
Parallel Process in Psychotherapy Supervision
Tracey, T. J., Bludworth, J., & Glidden-Tracey, C. E. (2011). Are there parallel processes in psychotherapy supervision? An empirical examination. Psychotherapy, 49(3), 330-343.
Parallel process was first proposed in the psychodynamic literature as the replication of the therapeutic relationship in supervision. Parallel process is also recognized as an important aspect of supervision in developmental and interactional models of supervision, even though those models do not endorse the unconscious aspects of parallel process. Parallel processes in supervision occur when: (1) the trainee therapist brings the interaction pattern that occurs between the trainee therapist and client into supervision and enacts the same pattern but with the trainee therapist in the client’s role, or (2) the trainee therapist takes the interaction pattern in supervision back into the therapy session as the therapist, now enacting the supervisor’s role. For example, a client comes into therapy seeking guidance because things are not going well in his relationships. He desires structure and direction from the trainee therapist (client’s behaviour is submissive). The trainee therapist attempts to help the client by providing guidance (therapist’s behaviour is relatively dominant). The client then responds with “Yes, but…” to suggestions offered by the trainee therapist (client’s behaviour is non-affiliative). The trainee therapist over time starts to become subtly “critical” of the client (therapist matches the non-affiliative client behavior). The trainee therapist goes into supervision complaining about the client’s “resistence” and the trainee therapist asks for help and direction from the supervisor (trainee therapist increases his submissive behavior in a parallel enactment of the client’s submissive stance). As the supervisor provides some direction (supervisor increases her dominance), the trainee therapist responds with “Yes, but. . .” (trainee therapist increases his non-affiliative behavior). The supervisor engages in more “critical” comments than usual in response to the therapist (supervisor matches the non-affiliative trainee behavior). In this way, the supervision interaction becomes a relative replication of the therapy relationship, captured in the parallel amounts of dominance/submission and affiliation/non-affiliation exhibited by the participants in relation to each other. Tracey and colleagues (2012) studied this phenomenon by coding moment by moment interpersonal interactions using an interpersonal circumplex model (i.e. a model that assesses relative dominance and affiliation) among 17 triads of clients/trainee therapists/supervisors in a series of single case replications. The authors hypothesized that relative dominance and affiliation would be parallel between clients/trainee therapist pairs and corresponding trainee therapist/supervisor pairs in contiguous sessions. Significant results were found for each dyad within the 17 client/trainee therapist/supervisor triads. Therapists in the role of trainee altered their behavior away from their usual in supervision to act somewhat more like particular clients did in the previous therapy session. Supervisors tended to engage in complementary interpersonal responses in the subsequent supervision session. This provided evidence for parallel process at an interpersonal level of interactions. Further, positive client outcome was associated with increasing similarity of trainee therapist behavior to the supervisor over time on both dominance and affiliation. That is, the more therapists acted like their supervisors in the previous supervision meeting on both dominance and affiliation, the better the client outcome.
This article provides intriguing evidence for an interpersonal model of parallel process. Supervisors may choose to communicate with the trainee about how the trainee therapist and client are interacting, as well as how the trainee and supervisor are interacting. In this way, the supervisor makes the implicit aspects of the parallel process more explicit for the trainee therapist. The trainee then can make choices about how best to proceed based on the new understanding of the interactional pattern at the process and content levels of interaction. For example, a therapist and supervisor can come to understand a block in the supervisory alliance as a parallel to a similar impediment in the trainee therapist-client relationship. A supervisor working through the block in supervision to create a more collegial and affiliative environment may model for the trainee therapist ways in which to effectively and collaboratively work with their client.
Author email: Terence.Tracey@asu.edu