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
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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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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Effects of Antidepressants in Treating Anxiety Disorders Are Overestimated
Roest, A.M., de Jonge, P., Williames, G.D., de Vries, Y.A., Shoevers, R.A., & Turner, E.H. (2015). Reporting bias in clinical trials investigating second-generation antidepressants in the treatment of anxiety disorders: A report of 2 meta-analyses. JAMA Psychiatry, doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.15.
Previous research has shown that the effects of antidepressant medications for treating depression may be over estimated by as much as 35%. This occurs because of publication bias, which refers to the tendency among researchers and editors to prefer to publish positive findings, and also occurs due to the occasional practice of the pharmaceutical industry to suppress negative findings. In these meta analyses, Roest and colleagues assess publication bias in the research of antidepressant medications to treat anxiety disorders (i.e., generalized anxiety disorder [GAD], panic disorder [PD), social anxiety disorder [SAD], post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], and obsessive compulsive disorder [OCD]). Anxiety disorders are very common in the population, with an estimated year-prevalence of 12%. Second generation antidepressants (i.e., selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are the primary pharmacologic treatment for anxiety disorders. Roest and colleagues were also interested in outcome reporting bias, which refers to mis-reporting non-positive findings as if they were positive findings, and spin which refers to interpreting non-positive results as beneficial findings. Positive findings refer to the pharmacological agent significantly outperforming a placebo, and non-positive findings refer to pharmacological agents not significantly outperforming a placebo. Pharmaceutical companies in the US must register any trial with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prior to starting the trial if the company wishes to apply for US marketing approval. And so, all medication trials and their findings, whether positive or non-positive must be listed in the FDA register. Despite being listed with the FDA, not all trials and findings get published in peer reviewed journals. This causes a problem for reviews and meta analyses that tend only to focus on published trials, and prescribing physicians tend only to read published trials and reviews. In their meta analyses Roest and colleagues compared findings from all FDA registered medication trials to those that were published in peer reviewed journal. Fifty seven trials were registered with the FDA but only 48 were published. Regarding publication bias, the proportion of studies with positive findings indicating efficacy of antidepressant medications in FDA trials was 72%, whereas the proportion of studies with positive findings in trials published in a journal was 96%. Overall, trials were 5 times more likely to be published if they were positive than if they were non-positive. Regarding outcome reporting bias, 3 of 16 trials that were non-positive in the FDA review were reported as positive in journal publications. Regarding spin, an additional 3 of the 16 non-positive trials interpreted non-positive results as if they were positive. Effect sizes in the FDA data was g = .33 indicating a small average effect size of the medications for anxiety disorders, but the effect size in published journals was g = .38 indicating a small to moderate effect. This represents a 15% over estimation of the effects of the antidepressant medications for anxiety disorders in the published literature.
The effects of antidepressant medications for anxiety disorders appear to be over estimated by 15% in the published literature. This inflation is not as large as the 35% over estimation in the published literature of the effects of antidepressant medications for depression. By contrast, as I reported in a previous PPRNet Blog, publication bias in psychotherapy trials is small and has little impact on the overall estimate of psychotherapy’s efficacy. Effect sizes for psychological interventions for anxiety disorders are moderate to large, g = .73. Combining medications and psychotherapy only modestly improves efficacy of treatments, and medications may interfere with the efficacy of psychological interventions.
Psychotherapy for Subclinical Depression
Cuijpers, P., Koole, S.L., van Dijke, A., Roca, M., Li, J., & Reynolds, C.F. (2014). Psychotherapy for subclinical depression: A meta-analysis. British Journal of Psychiatry, 205, 268-274.
Subclinical depression refers to someone having relevant depressive symptoms but without meeting standard diagnostic criteria for a depressive disorder. Cuijpers and colleagues indicate that subclinical depression can be defined as meeting at least one but not more than four DSM core symptoms for depression. Subclinical depression is highly prevalent. About 50% of individuals with major depression have had a subclinical depressive disorder, and so subclinical depression may be a risk for developing major depression later on. Depression in general is associated with a high level of health and economic burden worldwide (see my June 2014 blog). Antidepressant medications are likely not more effective than a placebo in treating subclinical depression. Cuipers and colleagues examined whether psychotherapy is effective in treating subclinical depression, and whether psychotherapy reduces the subsequent occurrence of major depression. Cuijpers and colleagues report on a meta analysis of 18 studies of psychotherapy for subclinical depression representing 1,913 patients. Most of the studies were based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In order to compare the effects of psychotherapy for subclinical depression versus psychotherapy for major depression, they also included 56 studies of psychotherapy for major depression. Psychological treatments had a small to moderate effect on subclinical depression (g = .35) that was statistically significant. Psychotherapy significantly reduced the incidence of major depressive episodes by 39% at 6 months follow up, and by 26% at 12 months follow up. The effect of psychotherapy for major depression (g = .63) was significantly larger than the effect of psychotherapy for subclinical depression (g = .35). No differences were found between CBT and other forms of psychotherapy for subclinical depression.
The results of this meta analysis indicate that psychological treatment of subclinical depression is moderately effective, and may reduce the incidence of major depression in the longer term for some. Effect sizes of psychotherapy for subclinical depression were likely underestimated because the type of control groups used in these studies affected study quality. However, even after controlling for study quality, the effects of psychotherapy for subclinical depression were still smaller than effects for psychotherapy of major depression. Although the number of studies comparing CBT to other therapies is small, the findings are similar to other meta analyses that indicate that several psychotherapies are effective treatment options for depressive symptoms.
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.
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.