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
Is Any One Psychological Therapy More Effective Than Another?
Barkham, M. & Lambert, M.J. (2021). The efficacy and effectiveness of psychological therapies. In In Barkham, W. Lutz, and L.G. Castonguay (Eds.) Bergin and Garfield’s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change (7th ed.). Wiley. Chapter 5.
In this part of the chapter, Barkham and Lambert review the debate about which psychotherapy is most effect for a particular disorder. This is a debate that has been ongoing since the middle of the last century. The current status of this debate centers around questions like how big are the differences between treatments, are these differences clinically meaningful, and if the specific interventions of a particular therapy are not the cause of change, then what are? It turns out that the early estimations of differences in therapies favoring CBT were over-blown. This was caused by combining effects across different studies that did not directly compare the treatments in question (the technical explanation is that comparing the effects of CBT vs a wait list control group in one study to the effects of psychodynamic therapy to a control group in another study introduces a whole host of confounds that make interpreting the differences in effects across studies unreliable). When subsequent researchers conducted meta-analyses of the effects of psychological therapies and only included studies in which bona-fide therapeutic approaches were directly compared to each other in the same study, then the differences between therapeutic approaches were small and clinically irrelevant (and even those small effects were be wiped out by controlling for the researchers’ allegiance [i.e., the effect caused by the researchers’ preference of one therapy over another]). Another way to consider the question is to assess the effects of the specific interventions of a therapy. That is, if CBT is effective because of its cognitive or behavioral components, then removing a component of CBT should reduce its effectiveness. These are often referred to dismantling studies. However, reviews of these types of studies indicate that removing components of treatment seem to have little or no impact on patient outcomes. That is, the effect of a therapy seems to have little to do with the specific intervention associated with the therapy (e.g., cognitive restructuring, exposure and response prevention). In fact, by far the largest predictors of patient outcomes are the factors common across most therapies: the therapeutic alliance, therapist empathy, goal consensus, therapist interpersonal skills, cultural adaptation of therapies, and others.
This research domain is far from perfect, and the debate over which therapy is better unfortunately will likely continue for some time. However, clinically and from a public health perspective, this is not a useful debate and hopefully with time it will fade. Much more useful questions likely center around how we can improve therapist skills in those factors that lead to better patient outcomes. That is, regardless of theoretical orientation, can we train therapists to verbally express emotions and empathy, improve their capacity to develop and maintain the therapeutic alliance, and adapt their interventions to the patient’s culture, characteristics, and preferences?
Placebo Response in Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for Depression
Razza, L. B., Moffa, A. H., Moreno, M. L., Carvalho, A. F., Padberg, F., Fregni, F., & Brunoni, A. R. (2018). A systematic review and meta-analysis on placebo response to repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation for depression trials. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, 81, 105-113.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a new treatment for depression thought to modulate brain activity through electromagnetic pulses delivered by a coil placed over the patient’s scalp. A meta analysis shows that TMS may be effective in treating depressive disorders when compared to a placebo control, although only 18.6% of those receiving TMS were no longer depressed at the end of treatment. The placebo control condition usually involves a sham version of TMS in which the coil is placed over the scalp but no magnetic stimulation is applied. In antidepressant trials, the placebo response is quite high such that approximately 40% of patients respond to the placebo condition (in antidepressant trials, the placebo condition includes an identical pill that is inert). In this meta analysis, Razza and colleagues assess the placebo response in TMS. They included only double blind randomized controlled trials (i.e., trials in which both the patient and physician were not aware if the treatment was real or a sham). The authors estimated the placebo response based on pre- to post-sham TMS scores of common measures of depression. The meta analysis included 61 studies of over 1300 patients. The main result showed that sham response was large (g = 0.80; 95%CI = 0.65–0.95). Trials including patients with only one episode of depression or who were not treatment resistant (g =0.67, 95%CI = 0.06–1.28, p= 0.03) had higher placebo responses than those trials in which patients previously had two or more failed antidepressant treatments (g = 0.5, 95%CI = 0.03–0.99, p = 0.048).
The results of this meta analysis demonstrates a high placebo response in trials testing TMS. This is similar to the high level of placebo response commonly seen in patients in antidepressant medication trials. It appears that psychological factors like attention, instillation of hope, patient expectations of receiving benefit, and perhaps working alliance may account for an important portion of why pharmacological and other medical interventions appear to work for those with depressive disorders. This is particularly true for patients who are receiving treatment for the first time or for whom previous medical treatment was successful.