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
What Proportion of Patients Benefit from Short-Term Psychotherapy?
Cuijpers, P., Karyotaki, E., Ciharova, M., Miguel, C., Hisashi, N., &Furukawa, T.A. (2021). The effects of psychotherapies for depression on response, remission, reliable change, and deterioration: A meta-analysis. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 10.1111/acps.13335. Advance online publication.
Many meta-analyses report that psychological therapies are effective to treat depression, that there are no differences between types or orientations of therapy in their outcomes, and that psychotherapy is as effective as medications in the short term and perhaps more effective in the longer term. But what do these findings mean for everyday practice? Many meta-analyses report a standardized mean effect size between treatment and control conditions. However, the effect size is an abstraction that may be difficult to interpret unless you understand the statistic. Clinicians may ask a more practical question: what is the proportion of patients that improve (have meaningful reductions in depression scores) and recover (improved and no longer are depressed)? This meta-analysis by Cuijpers and colleagues of 228 studies representing over 23,000 adult patients looked at the proportion of patients who improved and recovered after psychotherapy relative to those in control conditions (no treatment, care as usual, pill placebo). The psychotherapies were short term manualized treatments like CBT, behavioral activation, interpersonal psychotherapy delivered in individual, group, and self-help formats. About 41% of patients improved with psychotherapy for depression compared to 17% that improved with usual care and 31% for pill placebo. However, after statistically controlling for publication bias (i.e., the likelihood that some unflattering studies were never published), the improvement rate for psychotherapy was 38%. Recovery rates for psychotherapy ranged from 26% to 34%, and recovery in the control conditions ranged from 9% to 17%. There were no differences between therapy orientations. Highest rates of recovery or improvement were achieved by individual therapy and the lowest rates were seen in guided self-help. Deterioration rates were just below 5% in psychotherapy and about 7% to 13% in control conditions.
The effects of time-limited manualized psychotherapies tested in randomized controlled trials were modest. About 40% of patients improved and about 30% recovered. On the positive side, psychotherapies resulted in only about 5% of patients getting worse. The authors argued that clinicians must consider more effective strategies beyond these approaches to improve outcomes for depression. Some have focused on improving psychotherapist effectiveness, rather than on specific interventions. Methods like progress monitoring, managing countertransference, and repairing therapeutic alliance ruptures are means of improving psychotherapists’ effectiveness.
The Efficacy of Psychotherapy for Depression in Parkinson’s Disease
Xie, C.L., Wang, X.D., Chen, J., Lin, H.Z., Chen, Y.H., Pan, J.L., & Wang, W.W. (2015). A systematic review and meta-analysis of cognitive behavioral and psychodynamic therapy for depression in Parkinson’s disease patients. Neurological Sciences, 1-11.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that progresses slowly in most people. When dopamine producing cells in the brain are damaged or do not produce enough dopamine, motor symptoms of PD appear. Non-motor symptoms, including depression, apathy, and sleep disorders are also common so that in clinical settings about a 40% of patients with PD may have a depressive disorder. Depression is a top predictor of poor quality of life in patients with PD. Depression in PD is not well understood but may be due to neurobiological vulnerability and to psychological factors. Antidepressant medications are often prescribed for depression in PD but their efficacy is questionable. Xie and colleagues argue that long term use of some antidepressants may lead to worsening of some PD motor symptoms. In this meta analysis, Xie and colleagues examine the efficacy of brief psychological interventions, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic psychotherapy for depressive symptoms in PD. Twelve eligible studies were included in the meta analysis representing 766 patients with a mean age of 62 years (48% men). As an interesting note, 9 of the 12 studies were conducted in China and 3 were from the US or UK. Six of the studies used CBT for depression, and the remaining used psychodynamic therapy for depression in PD patients. Control conditions were often “treatment as usual”, and varied from antidepressant medication (e.g., Citalopram), nursing care, telephone calls, or no treatment for the depression. The effects of psychological interventions compared to control conditions on depressive symptoms were large, and remained large even after removing outlier studies. Outcomes for psychodynamic psychotherapy were better than for CBT, although both interventions resulted in large effects. There were also significant positive effects of brief psychotherapies on cognitive functioning, but not on quality of life. The authors were concerned that the quality of studies was variable and that many studies demonstrated a risk of bias. Further, most studies did not report outcomes at follow up periods.
Significant depressive symptoms commonly occur in patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD). As a result, overall quality of life may be reduced in patients with PD. Medications for depression may be complicated by the neurodegenerative nature of PD – that is, effects of medications on depressive symptoms may be small and their neuro-motor side effects may be intolerable for some patients. This meta analysis by Xie and colleagues of 12 studies suggests that better research on psychotherapy for depression in PD needs to be conducted with adequate follow ups. Nevertheless, the findings suggest that brief psychological interventions may represent viable and effective alternatives for patients with PD who have a depressive disorder.
Psychotherapeutic Interventions to Promote Forgiveness
Wade, N.G., Hoyt, W.T., Kidwell, J.E., & Worthington, E.L. (2014). Efficacy of psychotherapeutic interventions to promote forgiveness: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82, 154-170.
Forgiveness can include reducing vengeful and angry thoughts and feelings, and may be accompanied by positive thoughts, feelings and motives towards the offending person. This does not necessarily include reconciliation with the offending person, nor does it require forgetting, condoning, or excusing the wrongdoing. Promoting forgiveness in psychotherapy includes helping clients move toward more positive and optimal functioning. There are two prominent empirically based models of forgiveness interventions. Enright’s model contains four phases: (1) uncovering negative thoughts about the offense, (2) decision to pursue forgiveness, (3) work toward understanding the offending person, and (4) discovery of unanticipated positive outcomes and empathy for the offending person. Worthington’s model has five steps: (1) recalling the hurt and emotions, (2) empathising with the offender, (3) altruistic view of forgiveness, (4) commitment to forgiveness, and (5) holding on to or maintaining forgiveness. Wade and colleagues conducted a meta analysis: to compare forgiveness outcomes and mental health outcomes of forgiveness interventions in general; to compare of forgiveness interventions to each other; and to compare forgiveness interventions to non-forgiveness psychotherapies or to control conditions. The meta analysis included 53 studies of 2,323 participants. Participants receiving forgiveness interventions reported significantly greater forgiveness compared to those not receiving treatment and compared to those who received alternative treatments that were not specific to forgiveness. Forgiveness interventions also resulted in greater positive changes in depression, anxiety, and hope compared to no-treatment conditions. There were no differences between Enright’s and Worthington’s approaches when duration of treatment and modality (individual vs group) were controlled. However, as an individual treatment, Enright’s model showed better outcomes. Longer duration of treatment was associated with greater forgiveness, and greater severity of the offense was also associated with greater forgiveness.
Theoretically grounded forgiveness interventions may be the best choice to help a client to achieve resolution in the form of forgiveness. Other non-forgiveness therapeutic approaches may help but may not have as great an impact on forgiveness as those interventions that are specifically designed to improve forgiveness. Enright’s model delivered as an individual treatment was more effective than Worthington’s approach which is designed mostly as a group intervention. In addition to improving forgiveness, both approaches also had significant positive impact on depression, anxiety, and hope. The forgiveness interventions worked better if provided for longer duration and in the context of more severe offenses.
The Effectiveness of Evidence-Based Treatments for Personality Disorders
Budge, S.L., Moore, J.T., Del Re, A.C., Wampold, B.E., Baardseth, T.P., & Nienhuis, J.B. (2013). The effectiveness of evidence-based treatments for personality disorders when comparing treatment-as-usual and bona fide treatments. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 1057-1066.
Personality disorders (PD) are more stable and enduring than other mental disorders and are characterized by pervasive, serious, and rigid self-destructive patterns in affect, cognition, interpersonal relations, and impulse control that reduce psychological well-being. PD are associated with higher rates of self injury, suicide, and health care costs. The prevalence of PD in the population ranges from 6% to 13%. The presence of PD in a patient often reduces the effectiveness of psychological treatments for Axis I disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety) that the patient may have. Psychotherapy may be more effective than other interventions, such as pharmacotherapy, for treating PD. In their meta analysis, Budge and colleagues (2013) addressed two questions. First, are manualized evidence-based treatments (EBT) as provided in clinical trials superior to treatment as usual (TAU), presumably as offered in naturalistic settings, for treating PD? Second, are there differences between bona fide treatments (i.e., psychotherapy administered by trained therapists and based on sound psychological theories) for PD? (A note about meta analyses: meta analyses are a statistical method to combine the findings of a large number of studies while accounting for the sample sizes, quality of the studies, and size of the effects. Meta analyses provide us with much more dependable results than any single study could provide). Regarding the first question, 30 studies were included in the meta analysis. Evidence-based treatments included psychodynamic therapies, cognitive behavioral therapies, and dialectical behavior therapy, among others. Overall, EBTs were more effective than TAUs, and the effect was medium sized. The positive effects in favor of EBT over TAU were larger for patients with borderline personality disorder. For the second study comparing bona fide treatments, only 12 studies were found and included in the meta analysis. Only three of the studies indicated that one bona fide therapy was more effective than another. It is also important to note that the average duration of treatment in the EBT studies was 1 year and peaked at 40 sessions.
As Budge and colleagues (2013) concluded, with sufficient training, supervision, and dose hours, it appears that evidence based treatments (EBT) are more effective than treatments as usual (TAU) for personality disorders (PD). The results of the meta analysis suggested that training in evidence based psychotherapies may be necessary to achieve the best possible outcomes for patients with PD, especially those with borderline personality disorder. Are there differences in between EBTs for PD? The literature on this issue is quite small, so that 12 studies are not enough to make many conclusions. There is previous evidence that psychodynamic therapies and CBT yield very large effects for PD. The pervasiveness and complexity of PD symptoms make it so that effective treatments are necessarily longer term, which is consistent with previous research on this topic.
How Much Psychotherapy is Needed to Treat Depression?
Cuijpers, P., Huibers, M., Ebert, D.D., Koole, S.L., & Andersson, G. (2013). How much psychotherapy is needed to treat depression? A metaregression analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 147, 1-13.
The question of the number of psychotherapy sessions and of frequency sessions (i.e., number of sessions per week) that are optimal for good outcomes could have implications for how psychotherapy is practiced and how it is reimbursed. In my August 2013 PPRNet Blog, I reported on research that indicated half of patients recover after 21 sessions of psychotherapy. However, that also means that half do not recover in that number of sessions. Many of those who do not recover require another 29 sessions to recover. Research and practice in psychotherapy is largely based on a “one-session-per-week” model. Some researchers, however, have found that an increase in the frequency sessions per week could improve or speed up outcomes. Cuijpers and colleagues (2013) did a meta-regression to assess these questions for short-term psychotherapies for depression. (Meta-regression is a type of meta-analysis in which predictors from many studies are aggregated and their averaged effects on the aggregated outcome are assessed. This produces much more reliable findings than are possible from a single study.) The authors assessed predictors such as the number and frequency of sessions, and they looked at symptom outcomes for depression. The authors found 70 controlled studies that included 5403 patients. More than two-thirds of the studies included CBT as the psychotherapy. Average length of treatment was 11 sessions, and the maximum number of sessions was 24. The number of sessions across studies ranged from .44 to 2 per week, and the average per week was 1. The overall effect size for the treatment was medium sized (g = .59), though the effect became smaller (g = .40) when publication bias was corrected. (Publication bias refers to the likelihood that some less favorable studies or results were not published thus creating an overestimation of the effect of the treatment. See my May 2013 PPRNet Blog). Cuijper and colleagues’ meta-regression showed a small but significant association between greater number of sessions and outcomes for depression; but more importantly, a greater number of sessions per week had a considerably larger positive influence on the effects of psychotherapy for depression.
The findings from Cuijpers and colleagues (2013) meta-regression are particularly relevant to time limited treatment of depression with CBT. The total number of sessions was less important than the frequency of sessions per week. The results suggest that increasing the intensity or frequency of CBT sessions per week might result in a more efficient therapy and faster relief for patients with depression.
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Client Preferences for Psychotherapy
Swift, J. K., Callahan, J. L., Ivanovic, M., & Kominiak, N. (2013, March 11). Further examination of the psychotherapy preference effect: A meta-regression analysis. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031423
Client preferences consist of preferences regarding the type of treatment offered (e.g., preference for psychotherapy or medication, preference for a behavioral approach to treatment or an insight oriented one), desires for a certain type of therapist or provider (e.g., preference for an older therapist, a female provider, or a therapist who has a nurturing personality style), and preferences about what roles and behaviors will take place in session (e.g., preference for the therapist to take a listening role or an advice giving role). In a previously published meta analysis Swift and colleagues (2011) reviewed data from 35 studies that compared preference-matched and non-matched clients. A small but significant preference outcome effect was found, indicating that preference-matched clients show greater improvements over the course of therapy, and that clients whose preferences were not matched were almost twice as likely to discontinue treatment prematurely. In this follow up meta regression study, Swift and colleagues assessed whether preference accommodation is more or less important for types of disorders, types of treatments, or different demographics like sex or age. (Meta regression involves accumulating data from across many studies to assess predictors [e.g., sex, age, diagnosis, treatment type, etc.] of the preference effect). For example, some research has indicated that men prefer therapists with more feminine traits and that men prefer pharmacological interventions. But does accommodating these preferences affect outcomes and drop out rates? Is matching preferences essential for younger clients? Is matching preferences more important for women or ethnic minorities? The authors analysed data from 33 studies representing 6,058 clients to address some of these questions. The only variable that predicted the influence that preferences have on rates of premature termination was the length of the intervention. That is, it may be more important to accommodate client preferences for briefer therapies. Perhaps, as clients continue in therapy for longer durations, other variables such as the therapeutic alliance play a bigger role in determining whether or not one drops out prematurely. It is also possible that as treatment continues, clients may experience a shift in preferences to more closely match the treatment conditions that they were given. Once this shift in preferences has occurred, preferences are no longer mismatched, and the risk of dropping out may be diminished.
This study provides evidence that incorporating client preferences may be important for all types of clients. Generally, when client preferences are accommodated, clients show greater improvements while in treatment and are less likely to discontinue the intervention prematurely. As much as is practical, practitioners might collaboratively work with clients to identify what preferences they hold for treatment, and to discuss those preferences in the context of what is the most effective treatment that is available. This is particularly important for psychotherapies of shorter duration..
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