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 psychotherapy for borderline personality disorder, capacity to metnalize and therapy resistant depression, and negative effects of psychotherapy
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
Cognitive Behavioral Analysis System of Psychotherapy (CBASP) for Chronic Depression
Cognitive Behavioral Analysis System of Psychotherapy (CBASP) for Chronic Depression
Schramm, E., Kriston, L., Zobel, I., Bailer, J., Wambach, K., …Harter, M. (2017). Effect of disorder-specific vs nonspecific psychotherapy for chronic depression: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry, 74, 233-242.
The lifetime prevalence of chronic depression is somewhere between 3% and 6% of the population. Chronic depression refers to depression that develops into a chronic course of more that 2 years. Compared to those with acute depression (< 2 years depressed), patients with chronic depression experience greater social, physical, and mental impairments. This large randomized controlled trial by Schramm and colleagues assessed the efficacy of the Cognitive Behavioral Analysis System (CBASP) compared to so-called non-specific psychotherapy (NSP), both delivered in 24 sessions. CBASP is a structured therapy that combines cognitive and interpersonal treatments focused on problems solving and learning the effects of one’s own behaviors on others. On the other hand, therapists delivering NSP were limited to reflective listening, empathy, and helping the client feel hopeful. Specific interventions associated with cognitive or interpersonal therapies were prohibited. A total of 262 patients with chronic depression were randomly assigned to receive 24 sessions of either CBASP or NSP. Main outcomes included indicators of “response” to treatment (a 50% reduction in a depression scale score) or “recovery” (a very low score on the scale at the end of treatment). Both CBASP and NSP resulted in a significant decline in depressive symptoms after 48 weeks. The CBASP condition was slightly more effective than simply providing NSP (d = 0.39, NNT = 5). About 38.7% responded to CBASP compared to 24.3% who responded to NSP (OR = 2.02; 95% CI, 1.09-3.73; p = .03; NNT = 5). In terms of remission, 21.8% recovered after CBASP compared to 12.6% in NSP (OR = 3.55; 95% CI, 1.61-7.85; p = .002; NNT = 4). Average drop-out rates were similar between the two treatments at about 22%.
CBASP represents a highly structured integrative treatment for chronic depression. It did modestly better than NSP in which therapists were prohibited from engaging in any technical intervention. In the end, the longer-term rates of recovery for CBASP were also modest at about 21.8%. On the one hand, chronic depression is notoriously difficult to treat with psychotherapy or medications, so perhaps CBASP will provide relief for some. On the other hand, an average 21.8% recovery rate for CBASP was modest. CBASP was slightly better than providing active listening and empathy alone.
Therapist Racial Microaggression and the Therapeutic Alliance
Owen, J., Tao, K. W., Imel, Z. E., Wampold, B. E., & Rodolfa, E. (2014). Addressing racial and ethnic microaggressions in therapy. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 45(4), 283–290.
Overt forms of racism and prejudice still occur in society, and less overt forms are likely more prevalent. Microaggression are those less overt forms of racism and prejudice that may include direct and indirect insults, slights, and discriminatory messages. Specific types of microaggression are: microinvalidations (e.g., denying that racism exists), microassaults (e.g., direct racism but done in private), and microinsults (e.g., believing a group’s cultural norms are pathological). Microaggression are by definition ambiguous and subtle, and they may target culture, race, gender, sexual orientation, and other group identities. Microaggressions are associated with psychological distress in the recipient. Microaggressions can also occur in therapy if a patient perceives a therapist’s dismissing or negating messages about the patient’s culture, or if a therapist engages in culturally inappropriate interventions. Microaggressions represent a special type of therapeutic alliance rupture that could lead to negative patient outcomes. It is also possible that therapists and clients who address microaggressions after they occur are capable of repairing the alliance rupture and moving forward with a stronger relationship. However, there is very little research of the impact of client perceived microaggressions on the therapeutic alliance. In this unique study, Owen and colleagues asked 120 racial and ethnic minority university counselling centre patients treated by 33 different therapists (23 of whom were White) to rate their experience microaggressions, to indicate if the microaggression was discussed, and to rate the therapeutic alliance. In total, 53.3% of patients experienced a microaggression in therapy, and of those patients, 68.4% were treated by a racial or ethnic minority therapist. Clients who reported fewer microaggressions also reported stronger therapeutic alliances (r = .28, p = .01). Of the patients who reported a microaggression, only 24% (13 patients) reported that the microaggression was discussed by the therapist. Of these 13 patients, almost all (12 patients) reported that the discussion was successful. Therapist and patient dyads who successfully discussed the microaggression: (1) had alliance scores comparable to patients who did not experience a microaggression, and (2) had alliance scores that were significantly higher than dyads who experienced but did not discuss the microaggression.
Microaggressions appear to be ubiquitous in daily life and in psychotherapy – no therapist is immune. More than 53% of patients in this study reported a microaggression, despite what was likely their therapists’ good intentions. Microaggression are a special case of therapeutic alliance ruptures, which are known to be associated with poor patient outcomes. Therapists must develop a strong multicultural orientation and take a culturally humble stance with clients from a different culture or group. This involves therapists being attuned to the possibility of committing a microaggression, inviting patients to alert the therapist should a microaggression occur, and being open to clarifying misunderstandings and owning missteps.
Coming to a Consensus About Psychotherapy
Coming to a Consensus About Psychotherapy
Goldfried, M. R. (2019). Obtaining consensus in psychotherapy: What holds us back? American Psychologist, 74(4), 484-496.
In this thoughtful piece, Marvin Goldfried, one of the pioneers of psychotherapy research, discussed the lack of consensus that holds back progress in the science and practice of psychotherapy. He argued that there are three main blocks to moving the field forward. First, disagreement across theoretical orientations results in different language systems that prevents the field from learning of similarities or points of connection. At last count, there are over 500 schools of psychotherapy resulting in an absence of a common language. A lack of consensus and disparate languages means that identifying the key factors that may underlie the effectiveness of psychotherapy is difficult if not impossible. The second block to progress in psychotherapy practice and research has to do with the practice-research divide. Despite the large body of research on psychotherapy systems, many clinicians rely more on their own experience rather than the research evidence. Therapists also complain that research tends to be conducted by individuals who know little of the reality of providing clinical services, and so some of what is researched (e.g., short-term treatment packages of one theoretical orientation) may not be relevant to everyday practice. For their part, researchers have tended not to consult with or include clinicians in their research endeavors, thus resulting in research that is disconnected from practice. The third block is related to the disconnection between the past and current contributions. That is, psychotherapy schools and orientations tend to emphasize and reward what is new without acknowledging the historical, intellectual, and practical theories that preceded. As a result, there is a constant reinventing of the wheel and a tendency not to learn from past advances and failures. This creates a stagnation in advancing both research and practice. As one example of this phenomenon, Goldfried quoted the psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel in 1941 who described the effects of what we now call behavioral extinction. Yet Fenichel and his work is never cited by behavior therapy research, and so there is no opportunity to examine common underlying processes of change or the evolution of the concept over time.
Goldfried ended this paper by suggesting how to move the field of psychotherapy forward. He suggested that rather than focusing on new approaches to treatment, the field should reward new knowledge grounded in research and that belongs to the field in general and not to a particular school, orientation, or person. The emphasis of research in psychotherapy should not be on who is right but on what is right. In other words, research questions should emphasize “What did a therapist do to make an impact?” For example, psychotherapy process research on the therapeutic alliance, stages of change, therapist interpersonal skills, empathy, and client factors focus on transtheoretical constructs that inform therapists on how best to work with particular clients. This PPRNet blog often summarizes psychotherapy research for its readers.
Client Stage of Change Predicts Their Outcomes in Psychotherapy
Client Stage of Change Predicts Their Outcomes in Psychotherapy
Krebs, P., Norcross, J.C., Nicholson, J.M., & Prochaska, J.O. (2018). Stages of change and psychotherapy outcomes: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 74, 1964-1979.
Next to the therapeutic alliance, client stage of change is one of the most researched concepts in psychotherapy. The theory posits that clients come for treatment with varying levels of motivation, preparation, and capacity for behavior change. And their overall readiness for change influences the process and outcome of the psychotherapy they receive. Researchers have identified five stages that clients may go through during the change process, and they identified most effective therapist stances to help clients move from one stage to the next. Precontemplation is the stage in which the client has no intention of changing, and they may have been coerced into coming to therapy. During this stage therapists may help the client increase their awareness of the advantages of changing and the costs of not changing. Contemplation is the stage in which the client is aware that there is a problem, but has not yet made a commitment to take action. During this stage the client may face the sadness or anxiety related to letting go of behaviors that no longer work. Therapists may help a client to re-evaluate themselves should they change their behaviors. Preparation is a stage in which the individual is fully intending to take action, and they may make small behavioral changes. Therapists may help clients in this stage to act on their belief that they have the ability to change their behavior. Action is the stage in which clients modify their behaviors or environment to overcome their problems. Therapists may help clients at this stage by ensuring clients perceive adequate reinforcements for their efforts and resist the tendency to avoid problematic situations or feelings. Finally, the maintenance stage is the point at which clients have made desirable changes and now work to prevent relapse and consolidate gains. Therapists may help individuals during the maintenance phase to be prepared for or to avoid situations that may induce relapse. A key aspect of therapist stances related to client stages of change is exemplified by the process of motivational interviewing, in which the therapist works with the client’s resistance rather than taking a confrontational stance. In this meta-analysis, Krebs and colleagues systematically reviewed the literature on stages of change and summarize 76 studies with over 21,000 clients. The association between stage of change and client outcome was significant and moderate in effect size (d = 0.41; 95% CI: 0.34, 0.48). That is the stage of change at which the client starts has a measurable impact on their outcomes, with pre-contemplation being related to poorest outcomes, and action being related to best outcomes. These results were consistent across theoretical orientations. In a second meta-analysis, the authors found that tailored interventions to move clients to more advanced stages of change were significantly related to better outcomes, though the effects were small (d = 0.18; 95% CI: 0.16, 0.20).
The stage of change theory is transtheoretical – that is, it operates across most therapeutic situations and clients. The findings of this meta-analysis indicate that therapists who know the client’s stage of change and who act accordingly will improve their client’s outcomes. Many therapists tend to believe that their clients are at the action stage, but this may not be the case. Treating someone who is contemplating change as if they are ready to make changes may be counter-therapeutic as it represents a mismatch of goals. Hence, therapists should work with clients to set realistic goals for therapy, and therapists should keep in mind that a patient who is not ready to change will not likely change if confronted. The best strategy may be to discuss with the client the risks and benefits of their behaviors, and help them make a decision of how or if to move forward with therapy.
How Good is the Evidence for Empirically Supported Treatments?
Sakaluk, J. K., Williams, A. J., Kilshaw, R. E., & Rhyner, K. T. (2019). Evaluating the evidential value of empirically supported psychological treatments (ESTs): A meta-scientific review. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 128(6), 500-509.
In the 1990s the Clinical Division of the American Psychological Association commissioned a Task Force to identify “Empirically Supported Treatments” (EST). The Task Force decided that psychotherapies that repeatedly showed statistically significant improvements over no treatment, placebos, or another treatment would be designated as “Strongly” supported. They also designated some treatments as “Modestly” supported or with “Controversial” support. The EST movement continues to have a great impact on the practice, research, and funding of psychotherapy. Time-limited, diagnosis-focused therapies, tested in randomized controlled trials became the “gold standard”. Clinicians are expected to practice these ESTs, research agencies focus funding on these models, and some governments and insurance companies provide reimbursements only for these types of therapy. The Empirically Supported Treatments (EST) movement redefined the practice of psychotherapy as short-term, symptom-focused, technically-oriented, and mostly cognitive-behavioral. In this meta-scientific review Sakaluk and colleagues asked: how good is the evidence for the ESTs? The authors were particularly concerned with the quality of the studies from a methodological and statistical point of view: how likely was it that these findings could be replicated, or how reliable were the findings? The good news is that there were few instances (about 10%) of research supporting ESTs in which researchers mis-reported the statistics (i.e., error in the reporting of statistical findings). This is quite a bit lower than previously identified mis-reporting rates (about 50%) in psychological research in general. However, only about 19% of ESTs were supported consistently by high quality studies. Over half of ESTs were supported consistently by poor quality studies. Most of the studies supporting ESTs were not sufficiently powered to detect differences between treatments or conditions. That is, often the sample sizes of patients in the studies were too small, and so the significant results were not likely reliable or perhaps not plausible. Also, those therapies that the EST list defined as having “Strong” support were not backed by more higher quality research compared to therapies considered to have “Moderate” support. In other words, the decision to designate treatments as “Strongly” or “Moderately” supported appears to have almost no relationship with the quality of the research.
Embedded in this dense methodological paper are some troubling findings and important practice implications. The authors suggested that there are a number treatments on the EST list that have dubious research support because the studies of those treatments may not stand up to replication (a critical test in scientific research). It is not clear that ESTs are any more effective than other bona-fide psychotherapies that are not on the list. (Bona-fide psychotherapies are those that are based on a psychological theory, delivered by trained therapists, and in which the patient and therapist develop a relationship). The findings question whether dissemination of and training in ESTs to the exclusion of other psychotherapies can be justified given the quality of the evidence. In other words, it is possible that other bona-fide psychotherapies that are not on the EST list may be just as effective. This does not imply that psychotherapy is not effective or that anything goes when it comes to the practice of psychotherapy. Evidence-based practice in psychotherapy should guide psychotherapists’ clinical choices. However, the EST list is not the final word on what constitutes “evidence-based” practice in psychotherapy, or on what treatments should be researched and funded.
Therapeutic Alliance and Outcomes in Couple and Family Therapy
Friedlander, M. L., Escudero, V., Welmers-van de Poll, M. J., & Heatherington, L. (2018). Meta-analysis of the alliance–outcome relation in couple and family therapy. Psychotherapy, 55(4), 356-371.
In individual psychotherapy the therapist’s tasks include to develop an alliance with one patient. Goals and tasks of therapy need to be collaboratively negotiated, and therapists need to develop an emotional bond with the patient. The alliance also has to be nurtured continuously throughout treatment. This process is more complicated in couple and family therapy. Only in couple and family therapy (and in group therapy) does a therapist have to develop an alliance with multiple people simultaneously. The challenge is greater when family members are in conflict, or when the therapist’s alliance is stronger with one member than another. Such “split” alliances can be problematic especially when family members view their experiences of the therapist differently. To complicate things more, therapists have to be aware of the alliance within the family or couple system. That is, are the family members allied with each other – do they agree on therapy goals and tasks, and are they able to maintain an emotional connection to each other? In addition, just as therapeutic alliance ruptures can occur in individual therapy, so can they occur in couple and family therapy. An alliance rupture may occur when a there is a “split” alliance or when a patient responds to the therapist or other family members with confrontation or withdrawal behaviors. In this meta-analysis of therapeutic alliance in couple and family therapy, Friedlander and colleagues included 48 studies with a total of 2,568 families and 1,545 couples. The correlation between quality of the alliance and outcome was significant (r = .297, 95% CI [0.223, 0.351], p < .001), indicating that a stronger alliance was related to better outcomes. There was some evidence of publication bias suggesting that this estimate may be over-inflated, but even after adjusting for publication bias the correlation was still significant. The correlation between split alliances and outcome was also significant (r = .316, 95% CI [0.157, 0.458], p < .001), indicating that more split alliances contributed to poorer outcomes. The correlations were similar in strength both in couple and in family therapy, and the alliance was important in all therapeutic orientations. However, correlations were larger when the targeted child in the family was younger, and when families were seeking help and not mandated.
Like in individual therapy, the therapeutic alliance in couple and family therapy is important to improve the outcomes of patients. Regardless of therapeutic orientation, therapists must spend time and effort developing therapeutic alliances with each member of the system, and must try to maintain relatively equal alliances with each family member to avoid splits in the alliance. Therapists should be particularly aware of any confrontation and withdrawal behaviors towards the therapist or within the family or couple as these may indicate an alliance rupture. In such instances, therapists should emphasize shared goals and feelings, validate the common struggle among family members, and focus on the emotional bond with the disaffected patient. Each person’s alliance matters, and family member alliances are not interchangeable. Assessing the alliance with each member throughout therapy will identify potential problems and facilitate better outcomes.