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
Adapting Psychotherapy to Patient Resistance Level
Beutler, L. E., Edwards, C., & Someah, K. (2018). Adapting psychotherapy to patient reactance level: A meta‐analytic review. Journal of Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication.
This is another meta-analysis part of the Psychotherapy Relationships That Work series. In this study Beutler and colleagues looked at client resistance and its more extreme form, reactance. Resistance refers to a client avoiding to make changes advocated by the therapist, whereas reactance indicates not only that a client resists but also moves in a direction away from what the therapist is advocating. Social psychologists define resistance as a state of mind aroused by threat to one’s freedom and then attempts to restore one’s freedom. Resistance and reactance are relational concepts – that is, they are not only qualities of the client but defined by the therapeutic relationship. Therapists play a role in resistance by the degree to which they are directive, and by their ability to adjust their level of directiveness or control to the client’s characteristics. Therapist directiveness refers to the degree to which a therapist uses suggestion, interpretation, and assignments in therapy, such as: homework, setting topics, and leading the session. One way for a therapist to adjust their interpersonal stance is to reduce their level of directiveness with clients who are more resistant. In this meta-analysis, Beutler and colleagues reviewed 13 studies representing 1,028 clients. The aggregate effect size for the association between client reactance and therapist directiveness with client outcomes was d = 0.78 (SE = 0.1; p < .001; 95% CI: 0.60–0.97), which is large and significant. In other words, if a therapist adjusted their level of control by lowering it in the face of a resistant client, then client outcomes were better. The opposite was also true, if a therapist increased their directiveness for clients who were less resistant then those clients had better outcomes.
The results indicate that if client resistance or reactance is not met with confrontation and control, but with acceptance and non-defensiveness, the client may have a better outcome. Resistant or reactant clients will likely do better in a therapy that is less directive, whereas clients with lower levels of resistance may do better with more directive interventions. Therapists may do well to assess routinely the level of a client’s resistance, and adjust their interventions accordingly. Highly resistant clients may need a more collaborative approach, and a transparent discussion that focuses on the impact of certain interventions and therapist interpersonal stances on the client’s sense of control and personal freedom in the therapy.
Adult Attachment as a Predictor of Psychotherapy Outcomes: A Meta Analysis
Levy, K.N., Kivity, Y., Johnson, B.N., & Gooch, C.V. (2018). Adult attachment as a predictor and moderator of psychotherapy outcome: A meta‐analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology. Online first publication, DOI: 10.1002/jclp.22685.
Adult attachment refers to characteristic ways people manage their emotions and relationship styles. Securely attached individuals adaptively and flexibly experience emotions and they are able to give and receive love and support to others. Insecure attachment can be sub-categorized as avoidant or anxious attachment. Those who are anxiously attached tend to up-regulate their feelings so that they may feel easily overwhelmed, and they tend to be preoccupied with relationship loss. Those with avoidant attachment styles tend to down-regulate their emotions so that they have difficulty experiencing or expressing feelings, and they might dismiss the importance of relationships as a means of protecting themselves. John Bowlby, the founder of attachment theory, argued that psychotherapy had the potential to serve as a secure base from which individuals might explore themselves and relationships. He also described the therapist as a temporary attachment figure with which the patient might develop an emotional bond to promote change and for a corrective experience. In this meta-analysis, Levy and colleagues looked at whether attachment dimensions can change in psychotherapy and whether they can predict improvement in patient symptoms pre- to post-therapy. (A note on meta analysis. It is a method of systematically reviewing a research literature, combining the effect sizes in that literature, and summarizing these effects. Because meta analyses usually contain many studies, their results are much more reliable than the results of any single study, and so they provide the most solid basis for making practice recommendations). In this meta analysis, Levy and colleagues included 36 studies, totaling 3,158 clients. Higher client attachment security (or lower attachment insecurity) at the start of therapy was associated with better outcomes by post-treatment (r = 0.17, p < 0.001, 95% CI = [0.13, 0.22], k = 32). Also, greater improvement in attachment security (change in attachment security from pre- to post-treatment) predicted better outcomes (r = 0.16, p < 0.001, 95% CI = [0.07, 0.25], k = 15). When looked at separately, higher levels of either attachment anxiety or attachment avoidance were associated with poorer outcomes, and change in either type of attachment insecurity was associated with better outcomes. These effects appeared to be consistent regardless of the type of therapy (non-interpersonal vs interpersonal therapies).
Although attachment insecurity is associated with poorer outcomes, change in attachment insecurity is possible with psychotherapy and this change is associated with better symptom outcomes. Therapists should expect longer and more challenging treatment with patients who are anxiously attached. Anxiously attached individuals may appear engaged early in therapy, but they are quick to anger, feel rejected, and become overwhelmed. Such individuals may benefit from help to contain their emotional experiences by repeating the treatment frame and increasing structure. They may also benefit from interpersonally-oriented therapy focused on reducing their preoccupation with relationship loss. Avoidantly attached individuals may appear aloof, but they may be easily overwhelmed by demands for closeness. Therapists may have to carefully balance the amount of interpersonal space or demands in treatment with these clients so that they remain in therapy.
Experts Agree on Strategies to Repair Alliance Ruptures
Eubanks, C. F., Burckell, L. A., & Goldfried, M. R. (2017, December 21). Clinical consensus strategies to repair ruptures in the therapeutic alliance. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration. Advance online publication.
Research is clear that the therapeutic alliance (i.e., agreement on tasks and goals of therapy, and the bond between client and therapist) is an important predictor of client outcomes across theoretical orientations. It is also clear that ruptures or strains in the alliance occur often and can have a negative effect on client outcomes. One can define two types of ruptures: (1) withdrawal ruptures, in which the client moves away from the therapist by shutting down, changing the focus, or not completing session assignments; and (2) confrontation ruptures, in which the client moves against the therapist so that the relationship quality is low, the client is not collaborative, and the client does not agree with the goals of therapy. Repairing alliance ruptures can have a positive effect on client outcomes, and therapists can learn to repair alliance ruptures. What are the best strategies that a therapist can use to repair alliance ruptures? In this study of expert consensus, Eubanks and colleagues surveyed clinicians in three broad and different surveys. In the first survey, the authors asked 330 professional social workers and psychologists from a variety of theoretical orientations to describe situations in which they encountered alliance ruptures in clinical practice. The researchers categorized situations described by clinicians as withdrawal ruptures or as confrontation ruptures, and then the authors selected those scenarios that best represented each type of rupture. In a second independent survey, 177 clinicians indicated how they would advise a colleague seeking consultation to respond to each scenario of a therapeutic alliance rupture. Clinicians generated between 35 and 45 strategies to repair each type of alliance rupture. In the final part of the survey, training directors in psychology and social work programs nominated peer experts to rate the strategies for alliance repair, so that 134 peer-nominated expert clinicians provided ratings. There was a high level of consensus among experts such that between 55% and 74% agreed on effective strategies to repair alliance ruptures. Experts agreed that during the session in which the alliance rupture occurred therapists should: explore and empathize with the client`s anger at the therapist, and validate or legitimize the client`s position on the issue related to the rupture. Experts also agreed that in future sessions clinicians can use other strategies like: helping the client manage and cope with painful feelings related to the rupture, helping the client clarify and explore their emotions related to the rupture, and exploring the meaning and patterns of problematic relationships outside of therapy.
Experts agreed that the best strategies to repair therapeutic alliance ruptures were to deal with the therapeutic bond (e.g., explore and empathize with the client`s anger at the therapist) and to validate the client`s position on the issue related to the rupture. Other strategies like helping the client cope with their reactions and feelings, and exploring the meaning and patterns related to the client`s response were also rated as helpful. Less helpful strategies included therapists communicating about the limits of therapy, and therapist self-disclosure of their reaction to the rupture.
Long Term Psychodynamic Psychotherapy for Treatment Resistant Depression
Fonagy, P., Rost, F., Carlyle, J., McPherson, S.,… Taylor, D. (2015). Pragmatic randomized controlled trial of long-term psychoanalytic psychotherapy for treatment-resistant depression: The Tavistock adult depression study (TADS). World Psychiatry, 14, 312-321.
Usually I do not write about individual studies, mainly because meta-analyses and systematic reviews are much more reliable. But occasionally a unique study is published that is important enough to report. This is a rare trial that focuses on “treatment-resistant” depression defined as long-standing depression that has not responded to at least two previous evidence-based interventions. Depression is known to have a relapsing chronic course for about 12% to 20% of patients. And not responding to treatment is highly predictive of non-response to future treatment for depression. Fonagy and colleagues argued that in order to be effective, treatments for chronic and resistant depression need to be longer and more complex than current time-limited evidence-based approaches. Further, they argued that follow ups should be of longer duration. The authors tested a manualized long term psychoanalytic psychotherapy (LTPP). The treatment involved 60 sessions over 18 months provided by 22 trained therapists. In this trial, the “control” condition was treatment as usual (TAU) as defined by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence in the United Kingdom. TAU was made up of short term evidence-based interventions like antidepressant medications or CBT provided by licensed trained professionals. LTPP plus TAU was compared to TAU alone for 129 patients randomly assigned to one of the conditions. At pre-treatment, the majority of patients scored in the severe range on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) or the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS). The average patient had 4 previous unsuccessful treatments for depression. No differences were found between LTPP and TAU at post treatment, but differences began to emerge after 24 months. Complete remission was infrequent in both conditions after 42 months (14.9% LTPP vs 4.4% TAU). However, partial remission at 42 months was significantly more likely in LTPP (30.0%) than TAU (4.4%). Patients were significantly more likely not to meet DSM-IV criteria for depression at 42 months in LTPP (44%) than in TAU (10%). The differences between conditions in mean BDI and HDRS scores were significant and medium sized indicating greater improvement with LTPP.
This is the first study of its kind to test a manualized LTPP for treatment resistant depression. Patients in LTPP were more likely to maintain gains whereas those receiving evidence-based TAU were more likely to relapse. Although this is only one study and should be interpreted cautiously, it does suggest that chronic treatment-resistant depression is more likely to respond to longer and more complex treatment, and that outcomes of such treatment tend to be maintained in the longer term.
Patients with High Levels of Resistance Respond Better to Less Directive Psychotherapy.
Beutler, L.E., Harwood, T.M., Michelson, A., Song, X., & Holman, J. (2011). Resistance/Reactance level. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67, 133-142.
Patient resistance to psychotherapy is a persistent and perplexing problem. Resistance can be defined as patient behavior that is directly or indirectly contrary to therapist recommendations or to the health of the patient. However, the label “resistance” implies that the problem lies entirely within the patient, i.e., that the patient is the problem. Beutler and colleagues (2011) argue that it is more accurate to define the problem as “reactance”, which refers to the relational or co-constructed nature of psychotherapy. The notion of reactance (instead of resistance) suggests that the therapist also plays a role in the resistance, since the therapist is also responsible to create a context within which highly ambivalent clients do or do not thrive. Failure to thrive could be viewed as a poor fit between patient and therapy. Using social psychological theory, Beutler and colleagues conceptualized reactance as a state of mind aroused in the patients when he or she perceives their freedom to be limited by the therapy. A therapist may elicit resistant behavior from a patient by assuming more control of the patient’s behavior within and outside of the therapy sessions than is tolerable, by using confrontational techniques, and by creating and failing to repair alliance ruptures. Beutler and colleagues argued that therapist directiveness was a key factor in determining reactance in the therapy. Therapist directiveness refers to the extent to which a therapist dictates the pace and direction of therapy. Beutler and colleagues conducted a meta analysis to assess if therapist directiveness was associated with poorer outcome in patients who were more resistant in therapy. The meta analysis included 12 studies with 1,103 patients. They found that higher patient resistance was related to poorer outcomes, and the effect was moderate. The interaction between therapist directiveness and patient level of resistance directly affected outcomes, and this effect was significant and large. That is, greater therapist directiveness with patients who were more resistant resulted in poorer outcomes. Conversely, patients who were low in resistance responded well to more directive therapy.
Therapists should view some manifestations of client resistance as a signal that they are using ineffective methods. A therapist’s response to resistant states in a patient requires: acknowledgement and reflection of the patient’s concerns; discussion of the therapeutic relationship; and renegotiation of the therapeutic contract regarding goals and therapeutic roles. These therapist responses are designed to provide the patient with a greater sense of control over the process. High reactance indicates that a treatment should: de-emphasize therapist authority and guidance, employ tasks that are designed to provide the patient with control and self-direction, and de-emphasize the use of rigid homework assignments. As Beutler and colleagues indicate, resistance is best characterized as a problem of the therapy relationship (not of the patient) and as such, becomes a problem for the therapist and patient to solve. The skilled therapist can find a way to stimulate change and reduce a patient’s fear of losing control or freedom.
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.