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
Adding Short-Term Psychodynamic Psychotherapy to Antidepressants
Driessen, E., Fokkema, M., Dekker, J.J.M., Peen, J., Van, H.L…. Cuijpers, P. (2022). Which patients benefit from adding short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy to antidepressants in the treatment of depression? A systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. Psychological Medicine.
Short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy (STPP) and anti-depressant medications are both considered empirically supported treatments for depression. And there have been several trials demonstrating the efficacy of long-term psychoanalytic psychotherapy for treatment-resistant depression. Despite this research, it remains unclear which patient might benefit from anti-depressant medication alone and which patient might benefit from adding STPP to the antidepressants. The best use of scarce resources makes this an important question. There are challenges to doing a meta-analysis of patient characteristics that predict different outcomes in antidepressants alone versus antidepressants plus STPP. A key challenge is that common meta-analyses use study-level data (an overall summary of the effect size found in a study), and so statistical power often is limited by the small number of studies. The unique aspect of this study by Driessen and colleagues is that they conducted a meta-analysis of patient-level data. That is, they got individual patient data from the authors of the seven studies that specifically tested the effects of antidepressants alone vs antidepressants plus STPP. So instead of being limited by seven summary effect size statistics, the authors had a sample of 482 patient effect sizes to work with. The effect of adding STPP to antidepressants was larger for participants with high rather than low baseline depression scores [B = −0.49, 95% CI: −0.61 to −0.37, p < 0.0001], for participants with ⩽8 rather than more years of education (B = −0.66, 95% CI −1.05 to −0.27, p < 0.0009), and for participants with a depressive episode duration of >2 years rather than <1 year (B = −0.68, 95% CI −1.31 to −0.05, p = 0.03) or less than 1–2 years (B = −0.86, 95% CI −1.66 to −0.06, p = 0.04). At follow-up, higher baseline depression scores and longer depressive episode duration were still associated with better outcomes for those receiving a combination of antidepressants plus STPP.
The results of this patient-level meta-analysis suggests that adding short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy to antidepressant medication might be particularly efficacious for patients with higher initial levels of depression and/or with longer duration of depressive symptoms. It is possible that the addition of a psychological treatment like STPP may tackle some of the underlying psychological vulnerabilities whose treatment is necessary for those who have more persistent and severe depressive symptoms.
The Evidence for Psychodynamic Therapy
Barber, J., Muran, J.C., McCarthy, K., Keefe, J.R., & Zilchamano, S. (2021). Research on dynamic therapies. In Barkham, W. Lutz, and L.G. Castonguay (Eds.) Bergin and Garfield’s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change (7th ed.). Wiley. Chapter 12.
One of the persistent myths about psychotherapy is that among treatments that are meant to be effective, some treatments are more effective than others. There are complex historical reasons for such claims, but one therapy that has been most negatively affected by this narrative in psychodynamic therapy. Once a prominent treatment model up to the 1970s, psychodynamic therapy has fallen out of favor among some researchers and is sometimes disparaged as having no evidence base to support its efficacy. In this part of the chapter, Barber and colleagues review the research on the efficacy for psychodynamic therapy for a variety disorders. At the time of writing the chapter, the authors identified 245 randomized controlled trials of psychodynamic therapy. Randomized controlled trials are considered by some as representing the highest quality evidence for interventions. In a number of meta analyses, psychodynamic therapies have demonstrated efficacy compared to control groups in the treatment of mood, anxiety, personality, and somatic disorders, with effects lasting into posttreatment follow-up. In the treatment of suicidality and self-harm, psychodynamic therapies are more effective than control treatments, such as treatment as usual, routine psychiatric care, enhanced usual care, placebo, or any other comparison, including with a different psychological therapy. Long-term psychodynamic therapies for complex or chronic disorders (e.g., borderline personality disorder; treatment-resistant depression) outperformed active and inactive controls. A meta-analysis assessing statistical equivalence in trials comparing psychodynamic therapies to other gold-standard treatments found no evidence that other treatments were more effective. In treatment of unipolar mood disorders, adding short-term psychodynamic therapy to psychopharmacology improved depression symptoms over medications alone (g = 0.26 at termination; g = 0.50 at follow-up).
Some who practice psychodynamic therapy may feel that the research has been stacked against this treatment modality. And while the narrative is certainly one sided, the evidence is not. Psychodynamic therapy has a robust evidence base for a variety of disorders for which it was tested. Meta analyses consistently demonstrate psychodynamic therapy is as effective as other so called gold standard treatments and provides added value to the treatment of depression over and above medications alone.
Evidence for Psychodynamic Therapy of Personality Disorders
Barber, J.P., Muran, J.C., McCarthy, K.S., & Keefe, J.R. (2013). Research on dynamic therapies. In M.E. Lambert (Ed.), Bergin and Garfield’s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, 6th Edition (pp. 443-494). New York: Wiley.
In this part of their chapter, Barber and colleagues (2013) summarize the research on the efficacy of dynamic therapies for personality disorders. As the authors indicate, dynamic therapies refer to a family of interventions that: focus on the unconscious, affect, cognitions and interpersonal relationships; use interpretations and clarifications; consider transference and countertransference; and use the therapeutic relationship to improve self understanding and self-awareness. Following Magnavity (1997), the authors describe dynamic therapies specifically for personality disorders as identifying maladaptive, recurring patterns of thinking, behaving and emotional responding with the intent of restructuring these through linking current and transference patterns to early attachment and trauma. Barber and colleagues conducted meta analyses of available research on dynamic therapies for personality disorders. They combined several outcomes based on patient and observer reports as an index of general outcome. In seven studies representing 452 patients, dynamic therapies for personality disorders were more effective than control conditions (i.e., treatment as usual, or wait-lists), and the size of the effect was moderate. They found no significant differences between dynamic therapies and other types of therapy for personality disorders. Dynamic therapies had significant advantages over control conditions for general symptomatology, interpersonal problems, personality pathology, and suicidality. These therapeutic effects were maintained to short-term follow up.
There are now several dynamic therapies for personality disorders that have substantial research evidence for their efficacy. For example, Transference Focused Psychotherapy for borderline personality disorder is considered a “well-established” treatment by the American Psychological Association Division 12. Mentalization-based treatment is also considered to be “probably efficacious”. Other “probably efficacious” dynamic therapies include: McCullough-Vaillant’s short term dynamic psychotherapy (STDP) and brief relational therapy for Cluster C personality disorders (i.e., avoidant, dependent, obsessive-compulsive); and intensive STDP for general personality disorder.
The Process of Psychodynamic Therapy
Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change: Starting in March 2013 I will review one chapter a month from the Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change in addition to reviewing psychotherapy research articles. Book chapters have more restrictive copy right rules than journal articles, so I will not provide author email addresses for these chapters. If you are interested, the Handbook table of content and sections of the book can be read on Google Books.
Crits-Christoph, P., Connolly Gibbons, M.B., & Mukherjee, D. (2013). Psychotherapy process-outcome research. In M.E. Lambert (Ed.), Bergin and Garfield’s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, 6th Edition (pp. 298-340). New York: Wiley.
This month I consider the section in Crits-Christoph and colleagues’ chapter on the process of psychodynamic therapy (PDT). There are a number of PDT models, but they each share some fundamental aspects of treatment or purported mechanisms. One is insight or self understanding, in which patients learn about themselves and their relationships through interventions like interpretations. Self understanding is expected to help patients reduce symptoms by increasing adaptive responses in their important relationships. Transference interpretations may help patients understand their patterns within the therapy relationship, address or change these patterns, and generalize the changes to relationships outside of therapy. Another mechanism might be changes in defensive functioning. Defense mechanisms may be expressions and means of coping with unconscious conflict, needs, and motivations. Change in defensive functioning from less adaptive (e.g. acting out, passive aggression) to more adaptive (e.g., altruism, self observation) may be necessary to achieve improvement in symptoms. Crits-Christoph and colleagues addressed four questions in their review of research on the process of PDT. (1) Are the uses of PDT techniques like transference interpretations related to treatment outcomes? A number of studies have associated the use of PDT interventions and outcomes, and the average effect size is moderate. In general, transference interpretations were associated with better treatment outcomes. However the findings for transference interpretations are complicated. For example, the use of too many transference interpretations may not be therapeutic and may result in poorer outcomes. A small number of studies looked at the quality or accuracy of transference interpretations and found a moderate relationship between accurate interpretations and good outcomes. Most of these studies did not control for previous improvement in outcomes, so an alternate explanation might be that patients whose symptoms improve facilitate therapists to provide more effective transference interpretations. (2) Is patient self-understanding or insight associated with positive outcomes in PDT? Crits-Christoph and colleagues concluded from their review that changes in self-understanding is an important part of the therapeutic process of PDT. The relationship between insight and outcomes were not evident in CBT or medication interventions, thus suggesting that self-understanding is a specific mechanism of PDT. (3) Is change in defensive functioning related to outcomes in PDT? Only four studies have looked at this question. The studies suggest that improved defensive functioning is related to good outcomes especially for those with more severe problems. However, it remains unclear whether change in defensive functioning causes change in symptoms or the other way around. (4) Is therapist competence in PDT related to treatment outcomes? There is some evidence that competence and adherence in delivering PDT were related to good patient outcomes. Some research also showed that competence and adherence to PDT protocols preceded or caused good outcomes.
There is good evidence that transference interpretations are related to outcomes, but therapists need to use these judiciously. The research suggests that too many transference interpretations in those with lower levels of functioning, or inaccurate interpretations in general, can reduce outcomes or be related to poorer outcomes. There is also good evidence that patient self understanding of relationship patterns will result in positive outcomes. Self understanding or insight may be a specific mechanism by which PDT works that sets it apart from CBT and the effects of medications. The research also indicates some evidence for the positive effects of changes in defensive functioning, but it is not clear whether change in defenses is a cause of or caused by positive symptom outcomes. Therapist competence and adherence in delivering PDT is also related to good patient outcomes. This highlights the need for training and supervision in evidence based PDT interventions.