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 transtheoretical principles of change, microaggressions and outcomes, interpretations and outcomes.
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
The Enduring Effects of Psychodynamic Treatments
Kivlighan, D.M., Goldberg, S.B., Abbas, M., Pace, B.T., …Wampold, B.E. (2015). The enduring effects of psychodynamic treatments vis-à-vis alternative treatments: A multilevel longitudinal meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 40, 1-14.
There is a great deal of evidence that indicates uniform efficacy of a variety of psychotherapies for many common disorders. For example, in the July 2014 PPRNet Blog, I reviewed a meta-analysis comparing 7 psychotherapies for depression indicating no differences between the various treatments in terms of patient outcomes. Nevertheless proponents of cognitive behavioural therapy have claimed superiority to alternative treatments for decades. On the other hand proponents of psychodynamic therapies have argued that these treatments focus on personality change rather than symptoms, and so benefits of psychodynamic therapies will be longer lasting. In this meta analysis, Kivlighan and colleagues put these claims to the test. They selected studies in which a psychodynamic therapy was compared to one or more alternative treatment. Both the psychodynamic therapy and the alternative (most often CBT) had to be judged as “bona fide” therapies by independent raters (i.e., they had to be therapies that were delivered in a manner in which they could be expected to be effective by clients and therapists). Outcomes not only included specific symptoms (e.g., depression), but also non-targeted outcomes (e.g., improved self esteem in a study of treatment of anxiety), and personality outcomes. Effect sizes for outcomes were assessed at post-treatment and also at follow-ups. Twenty five studies directly comparing psychodynamic and non-psychodynamic therapies were included, representing 1690 patients. At post treatment, no significant differences were found between psychodynamic and non-psychodynamic treatments on targeted outcomes, non-targeted outcomes, and personality measures (all gs < .10). There was also no significant or meaningful effect of time to follow up on outcomes, indicating no differences between treatment types at any of the follow up periods.
Psychodynamic and non-psychodynamic treatments were equally effective at post treatment and at follow ups for all outcomes, including personality variables. This challenges the belief that psychodynamic treatments uniquely affect personality and have longer lasting effects compared to other treatments. It also challenges the notion that CBT (by far the most common comparison treatment) is a superior therapy for patient outcomes. Pan-theoretical psychotherapy factors (client contributions, expectations, therapeutic alliance) may be more promising factors in understanding the long term benefits of psychotherapy.
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Client Attachment to the Therapist
Mallinckrodt, B. & Jeong, J. (2015). Meta-analysis of client attachment to therapist: Associations with working alliance and pretherapy attachment. Psychotherapy, 52, 134-139.
Attachment theory has become one of the most important conceptualizations of affect regulation and interpersonal relationships. John Bowlby and others suggested that attachment behaviour is hard wired so that infants can gain proximity to caregivers which is necessary for infant survival. Repeated interactions with caregivers coupled with the variety of caregiver responses (i.e., available, unavailable, or inconsistently available caregiving) lead to children developing internal working models of attachment. These models become the basis for attachment styles in adulthood. Attachment security in adults is associated with the ability to give and receive caring and love, and to adaptively regulate emotions. Attachment avoidance is associated with a tendency to dismiss relationships as important, and to downregulate emotional experiences. Attachment anxiety is associated with a preoccupation with relationships, and to upregulated emotional experiences. In a previous meta analysis, client general attachment security was modestly but significantly associated with higher levels of therapeutic alliance (r = .17). In another meta analysis, higher client general attachment anxiety was associated with poorer client outcomes (r = -.22). In this meta analysis, Mallinckrodt and Jeong assessed whether client attachment to the therapist was associated with client general attachment style and with the therapeutic alliance with the therapist. They included 13 studies representing 1051 client-therapist dyads. Client pre-therapy general attachment avoidance and anxiety were negatively associated with client-therapist attachment security, and the effects were modest but significant (r = -.12, r = -.13). Client-therapist attachment security was positively associated with therapeutic alliance (r = .76) and client-therapist attachment avoidance was negatively associated with therapeutic alliance (r = -.63), and these effects were large.
Client pre-therapy attachment styles appear to have an impact on their attachment to the therapist. A client pre-therapy attachment style characterized by preoccupation with relationships and an over-emphasis on emotions (i.e., attachment anxiety) will likely lead to similar behaviors and preoccupations in the relationship with the therapist. Mallinckrodt and Jeong suggest that this might be the basis for transference-related phenomenon that therapists and clients experience in the therapeutic relationship. That is, client attachment anxiety and avoidance likely interfere with developing a secure attachment to the therapist. Further, client attachment avoidance with regard to the therapist may result in lower therapeutic alliance, which is key to achieve improved patient outcomes. Despite these challenges, therapists who can facilitate a secure psychotherapy attachment experience for their clients are more likely to see improvements in their clients’ functioning.
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Effects of CBT are Declining
Johnsen, T. J., & Friborg, O. (2015, May 11). The effects of cognitive behavioral therapy as an anti-depressive treatment is falling: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/bul0000015
Depression is a highly debilitating disorder and ranked third in terms of disease burden in the world. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for depression that was introduced over 40 years ago. In part, CBT sees depression as caused by maladaptive thoughts that maintain emotional distress and dysfunctional behavior. Reducing depression is achieved by eliminating the impact of or chancing maladaptive thoughts. CBT is the most researched psychological treatment for depression, and the research goes back several decades. A number of technical variations and new additions have been made over the years to CBT to improve patient outcomes. The volume of research and its history provides a unique opportunity to assess time trends in the effects of CBT. In this meta analysis, Johnsen and Friborg asked: “have the effects of CBT changed over time”? They also looked at whether client factors (e.g., demographics, symptom severity), therapist factors (e.g., age, experience, training), common factors (e.g., therapeutic alliance, client expectancies), and technique factors (e.g., fidelity to a treatment manual) can explain these trends. Johnsen and Friborg reported on 70 studies of 2,426 patients conducted from 1977 to 2014. Males accounted for 30.9% of patients, 43% had comorbid psychiatric conditions, and the average patient was at least moderately depressed. The average effect of CBT in reducing depression was large (g = 1.46 after accounting for publication bias). Women had better outcomes, studies with poorer methodological quality showed larger effects, and patients of more experienced therapists had better outcomes. There were too few studies measuring therapeutic alliance to assess the effect of common factors on outcomes. Most interesting was a significant relationship between effect sizes and year of publication. That is, the effects of CBT declined significantly over the years, though the average effect remained large. Surprisingly, there was a steeper decline for studies that used a treatment manual compared to those that did not. No other variables were reliably associated with this decline.
Women and patients of more experienced therapists appear to benefit most from CBT. Although the effects of CBT declined over time, the treatment remained highly effective. Johnsen and Friborg’s study could not easily explain this decline. The authors suggested that the placebo effect (expectation on the part of patients, researchers, and therapists) is typically stronger for new treatments. However, as time passes the strong initial expectations tend to wane thus reducing the overall effect of the intervention. They also suggested that CBT treatment outcomes may be improved not by technical variations and new additions, but by better ways of integrating common, therapist, and client factors.
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Implementing Routine Outcome Monitoring in Clinical Practice
Boswell, J.F., Kraus, D.R., Miller, S.D., & Lambert, M.J. (2015). Implementing routine outcome monitoring in clinical practice: Benefits, challenges, and solutions. Psychotherapy Research, 25, 6-19.
Routine outcome monitoring (ROM) refers to: (1) systematically assessing patient outcomes at every session, (2) comparing patient scores and progress to a database of similar patients, (3) using algorithms or decision tools to identify patients who are not improving or deteriorating, (4) providing regular and immediate feedback to therapists about the patient, and (5) in some cases providing clinical decision aids to help therapists improve outcomes for patients who are not improving or who are deteriorating. Boswell and colleagues review the research related to ROM. Generally, about 30% to 50% of patients do not respond to treatment, and 8% of patients tend to get worse during treatment. Therapists tend to overestimate their patients’ improvement, and so therapists may not always identify patients who do not respond or get worse. Therapists may need assessment aids to help them make decisions about patient progress and treatment. Boswell and colleagues point out that ROM have a proven ability to predict treatment failure and other negative outcomes. In a meta analysis of over 6,000 patients, the patients at risk of a negative outcome whose therapist received ROM feedback prior to every session were better off than 70% of at-risk patients whose therapist received no feedback. When therapists are provided feedback and suggestions for interventions, their patients had almost four times higher odds of achieving clinically significant improvement. Boswell and colleagues list a number of barriers that psychotherapists and agencies experience to implementing ROM in their practices. Many therapists are not aware of or have no experience with ROM, and so they may not be aware of its benefits to their practice and patients. Time and money are two practical issues that may arise. This type of assessment is not always reimbursed and the average clinician may feel that they do not have enough time to reflect on routine assessment and feedback so as to reconsider their interventions. Agencies may not understand the value of allocating resources to this type of testing (although medically oriented agencies would not hesitate to order a blood test or an x-ray). Finally, some therapists might experience ROM as intrusive, as impeding the therapeutic relationship, and as a means for an agency to control therapist decisions.
Routine outcome monitoring (ROM) has clear benefits to patients, therapists, and agencies. To overcome barriers, therapists and agencies could implement ROM as part of routine clinical care, and advertise this as an evidence-based practice that will benefit prospective patients. Clients generally appreciate knowing that they will receive the best possible care. ROM can enhance the therapeutic relationship if it is presented to clients as a collaborative endeavor. For example, if a patient is not improving or is deteriorating, therapists can discuss this with patients as well as a plan to alter aspects of the treatment in order to improve the prospects for a better outcome. Therapists can choose from a number of possible ROM options to best tailor the approach to their clients based on cost, time, and relevance. Currently, there are several outcome monitoring systems available to clinicians including: the Partners for Change Outcome Management System (PCOMS), the Treatment Outcome Package (TOPS), the Clinical Outcomes in Routine Evaluation (CORE), and the Outcome Questionnaire (OQ) system.
The Efficacy of Existential Therapies for Physically Ill Patients
Vos, J., Craig, M., & Cooper, M. (2015). Existential therapies: A meta-analysis of their effects on psychological outcomes. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 83, 115-128.
Existential therapies are a group of psychological interventions that address questions about existence, and they assume that by overcoming existential distress, psychological problems may be decreased. Underlying existential therapy is the assumption that: people need a meaning or purpose, individuals have a capacity to choose and actualize this potential, people will do better when they face challenges rather than avoid them, and human experiencing is related to others’ experiences. Vos and colleagues list four main schools of existential therapies: Daseinanalysis which focuses on free expression and greater openness to the world; logo-therapies which are aimed at helping clients establish meaning in their lives through didactics, British existential therapy which encourages clients to explore their experiences, and the existential-humanistic approach which help clients face mortality, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness. Vos and colleagues review the research literature showing that meaning in life and positive well-being are associated with coping with stressful life events including life threatening illnesses. In this meta-analysis, the authors review the randomized controlled trials of different types of existential therapies to assess the efficacy of the treatments compared to a control condition like social support groups, being on a waiting list, or receiving care as usual. They grouped outcomes into four areas: meaning in life, psychopathology, self-efficacy, and physical well-being. Their meta-analysis included 15 studies of 1,792 participants, 13 of the studies were with medically ill patients, and 10 of those studies were aimed at patients with cancer. Effects of existential therapy versus a control condition on meaning in life tended to be positive and moderate. Effects on psychopathology and self-efficacy were positive and small. The effects of existential therapies versus a control condition on physical well-being were not significant. There were no differences between the types of existential therapy, though the number of studies was small to adequately assess these differences.
Clients seem to benefit from group therapy interventions focused on meaning compared to social support groups, being on a waiting list, or receiving care as usual. Medically ill patients who received existential therapy found greater meaning in their lives, and the effects were moderate to large. Their psychopathology and self-efficacy also improved significantly but effects were small. The quality and number of studies was not optimal which limits the confidence one can have in these findings. The authors conclude that despite the small number of studies, existential therapies that use structured interventions that incorporate psychoeducation and discussions on meaning in life are a promising treatment for physically ill patients.
Methods of Repairing Alliance Ruptures
Safran , J. D. & Kraus , J. (2014). Alliance ruptures, impasses and enactments: A relational perspective. Psychotherapy, 51, 381-387.
In this clinically oriented review, Safran and Kraus discuss the evidence related to alliance ruptures, repairing alliance ruptures, and methods of training in alliance rupture repair. Safran’s work represents “second generation” research on the therapeutic alliance. The therapeutic alliance refers to the relational bond between client and therapist and their agreement on tasks and goals of therapy. A positive alliance is associated with good client outcomes across a variety of therapeutic approaches. Therapeutic alliance ruptures in psychotherapy are inevitable, such that the alliance is continually being re-negotiated, both implicitly and explicitly, throughout the therapy. Such ruptures might include strains, tensions, or breakdowns that could interfere with the ongoing collaboration between therapist and client. Ruptures are associated with re-enactments of dysfunctional relational patterns, but they also may provide opportunities for change and growth in therapy. Safran’s model of alliance ruptures and repairs sees the processes in the client-therapist relationship as key to understanding the client’s relationship problems. Collaboratively addressing tensions in the alliance allows the client to develop more flexible ways of being in relationships and of experiencing themselves. Research by Safran and Muran (2000) suggest that it is rare not to have some minor strain occurring in the therapeutic alliance. Ruptures may occur in half of therapy cases within the first six sessions. Research indicates that unresolved ruptures are associated with deterioration in the alliance, poor outcome, and patients dropping out. In a meta-analysis, repairing alliance tensions by using evidence-based strategies was associated with improved patient outcomes and the effect was large. Alliance ruptures occur across theoretical orientations. For example, research on cognitive therapy showed an improvement in therapist-client interpersonal processes after therapists were trained in techniques to resolve alliance ruptures.
Alliance ruptures can range in intensity from minor tensions to major rifts in collaboration. They may occur at any time in treatment, and may be present in single or across multiple sessions. Safran and Kraus describe two general types of ruptures. First, withdrawal ruptures occur when clients deal with ruptures or misunderstandings by falling silent. The resolution may involve the therapist exploring the client’s interpersonal fears, reasons for inhibiting negative feelings, and providing the client with an opportunity to communicate their needs. Second, confrontation ruptures occur when clients directly express anger, resentment or dissatisfaction with the therapist or therapy in a blaming manner. The resolution may involve the therapist empathically engaging with the client to facilitate feelings of disappointment, hurt, and vulnerability. Key to this process is the therapist’s meta-communication or mindfulness abilities. The therapist must be aware of the behavior associated with the rupture, collaboratively explore the rupture experience, help the client overcome avoidance of feelings related to the rupture, and explore the client’s needs and wishes that emerge while working through the rupture.