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
Psychotherapy for Sub-Clinical Depression in Children and Adolescents
Cuijpers, P., Pineda, B.S., Ng, M.Y, Weisz, J.R., Muñoz, R.F., Gentili, C., Quero, S., Karyotaki, E. (2021). A meta-analytic review: Psychological treatment of subthreshold depression in children and adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Online first publication.
Depression occurs in 2.6% of children and adolescents, with as many as 14% of adolescents meeting criteria for a depressive disorder before the age of 18. Depression in youths is related to a number of impairments, negative health outcomes, and to increased risk of depression as an adult. Subthreshold depression represents clinically important depressive symptoms that does not meet diagnostic criteria for major depression or dysthymia. Like major depression, subthreshold depression is related to impairment and increased mortality. Subthreshold depression in adolescents is related to increased risk for developing other disorders including future depressive disorders in adulthood. In this meta analysis, Cuijpers and colleagues present a review of direct comparison randomized controlled trials of psychological interventions for children and adolescents with subthreshold depression. The meta-analysis included 12 trials representing over 1500 children and adolescents. Eight studies tested CBT, and the others tested IPT or supportive therapy. The pooled effect size of the difference between the psychological interventions and control conditions at post treatment was g = 0.38 (95% CI: 0.14 to 0.63), indicating a small to moderate effect of psychological therapies to reduce subthreshold depression in children and adolescents. The authors found some evidence of publication bias (i.e., the likelihood that some studies were conducted but never published) and after adjusting for this bias, the effect size dropped to g = .24 (95% CI: -0.06 to 0.54) which was not statistically significant. There were only two studies of the treatment of children which showed small non-significant effects, g = 0.01 (95% CI: -1.16 to 1.18), however the effects of treatment for adolescents were considerably better, g = .44 (95% CI: 0.16 to 0.71). Longer term follow-up data (6 to 18 months) did not show sustained effects of treatment. Children and adolescents had a 48% lower chance of developing a depressive disorder if they received treatment, although this was not statistically significant.
The small number of studies limits what one can say about the effects of psychological treatment for subthreshold depression in children and adolescents. The effects were small to moderate at post treatment, but the effects were statistically significant only for adolescents and not for children. Longer term effects of treatments were non-significant, and there was no significant effect on the incidence of depressive disorders at follow up. Despite the disappointing findings, the authors concluded that interventions for subthreshold depression may have positive immediate effects at post treatment for adolescents.
Psychotherapies for Depression
Cuijpers, P., Quero, S., Noma, H., Ciharova, M., Miguel, C., Karyotaki, E., Cipriani, A., Cristea, I.A., Furukawa, T.O. (2021). Psychotherapies for depression: A network meta-analysis covering efficacy, acceptability and long-term outcomes of all main treatment types. World Psychiatry, 20, 283-293.
Depressive disorders are common, and they have an important negative impact on quality of life and on mortality. For that reason, the treatment of depression is critical. The most commonly tested psychotherapy is CBT but others like interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), psychodynamic therapy (PDT), and behavioral activation (BA) have also been tested. In this network meta analysis, Cuijpers and colleagues simultaneously test the effects of different psychotherapies for depression. Network meta-analysis, fundamentally, works by the transitivity assumption: if treatment A = treatment B, and treatment B = treatment C, then treatment A = treatment C even if Treatments A and C were never tested against each other in the same study. This procedure is not without controversy: what if the studies of treatment A vs B are all higher quality (thus resulting in lower effects) than studies of treatments B vs C? Is it fair to equate the studies by comparing treatments A and C when we know study quality impacts effect sizes? Nevertheless, network meta-analyses are used by some to aggregate many studies and to estimate relative outcomes across treatment types. Cuijpers included 331 studies (representing over 34,000 patients) in their network meta-analysis. CBT was tested in over 63% of trials, but other therapies (PDT, IPT, BA) were tested as well. All psychotherapies were more efficacious than care-as-usual and wait list controls with almost no significant differences between therapies for treating depression, except non-directive therapy was less efficacious than other therapies. (Non-directive therapy was often treated as a placebo control condition in studies, and so it may have been delivered in a way that limited its efficacy). CBT, IPT, PDT and BA all were more efficacious than care as usual at 12 months follow up.
Overall, this network meta-analysis of psychotherapies for depression echoes the findings of many meta-analyses that preceded it. All psychotherapies that were examined, except for non-directive therapy, were equally efficacious for treating depression. When initiating therapy, it may be more important for therapists to be responsive to patient characteristics than to focus on which brand of therapy to deliver. For example, patients with internalizing coping styles may do better with insight oriented therapies, those with high levels of resistance/reactance may require a therapist that is less directive, and patients from marginalized race and ethnic communities may do better with a therapist who is multiculturally competent.
Adding Psychotherapy to Pharmacotherapy for Depression
Guidi, J. & Fava, G.A. (2021). Sequential combination of pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy in major depressive disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry, 78, 261-269.
A sequential model of treatment suggests that one apply two treatments consecutively in order to reduce relapse of symptoms. This might include pharmacotherapy followed by psychotherapy, or vice versa. One reason to consider a second consecutive treatment for depression is that many individuals continue to have symptoms after a first treatment, and having residual symptoms is related to higher relapse rates. Another reason is that many with depressive disorders have comorbid symptoms of anxiety or other disorders, and so one course of treatment may not be enough for such complex situations. In this study, Guidi and Fava conducted a meta-analysis to examine if sequential combination of medications and psychotherapy reduced the risk of relapse for major depression. They reviewed 17 randomized controlled trials representing 2283 adult patients that examined the sequential use of psychotherapy following medications. The primary outcome was remission of depressive symptoms. The methodological quality of the studies was high. After adjusting for publication bias, the sequential approach was significant (RR = 0.885; 95% CI, 0.793-0.988), indicating that sequencing treatment resulted in a lower risk of relapse or recurrence. Continuing versus discontinuing medications during psychotherapy did not result in any advantage for patients. However, providing psychotherapy while continuing with antidepressant medications reduced rates of relapse and recurrence, RR = 0.821 (95% CI, 0.710-0.949).
The chronic and recurrent nature of major depression is an important clinical challenge. The results of Guidi and Fava’s meta-analysis suggests that adding psychotherapy following pharmacotherapy, either alone or in combination with pharmacotherapy, will reduce the risk of relapse from major depression. Discontinuing medications is reasonable after adding psychotherapy in order to help patients with major depression to stay symptom free. The results support the notion that psychotherapy results in patients acquiring skills to regulate their emotions, and that this might result in reduced relapse of depressive symptoms. Such skill acquisition does not take place with pharmacotherapy alone.
Adding Psychodynamic Therapy to Antidepressant Medications
Dreissen, E., Dekker, J.J.M., Peen, J., Van, H.L., Maiana, G…. Cuijpers, P. (2020). The efficacy of adding short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy to antidepressants in the treatment of depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. Clinical Psychology Review, 80.
Depression is the single largest contributor to disability worldwide. There are a number of established treatments for depression including antidepressant medications and psychotherapies. One of the psychological treatments that is evidence-based is short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy (STPP). There is evidence in the general psychotherapy research literature that combining psychotherapy with antidepressant medications is more efficacious than providing medications alone. However, no meta-analysis has looked specifically at adding STPP to antidepressant medication. In this meta-analysis Driessen and colleagues analysed data from 7 studies that compare STPP plus medications versus antidepressant medications alone, or that compare STPP plus medications versus supportive therapy plus medications. Although the number of studies was small, the unique aspect of this meta-analysis is that Driessen and colleagues were able to get all of the individual level data from each study, so they were able to analyse data from 482 participants. Typical meta analyses only look at study level data (effects reported from the study as a whole) and not individual level data (effects for each individual who participant in each study). So, the results from Driessen and colleagues’ study provides a more precise and specific analysis of the findings. Combined treatment of STPP and antidepressant medications was significantly more efficacious than antidepressants with and without supportive therapy at post-treatment, but the effects were small (d = 0.26, SE = 0.01, p = .01). At follow up, combined treatment of STPP and antidepressant medications was again more efficacious than antidepressant medications and supportive therapy, but the effects were moderately large (d = 0.50, SE = 0.10). Other findings also suggested that STPP’s specific interventions provided significant added benefit over and above the non-specific effects of supportive therapy. The findings were consistent whether or not analyses were done on studies with complete versus incomplete data, controlling for baseline depression scores, and use or not of a treatment manual. Overall, the quality of the studies was good, and the findings were stable across studies.
People with depression and their clinicians might expect better outcomes in terms of depressive symptoms if they combine STPP and antidepressant medications, rather than receiving medications alone. The benefits might be related to the specific interventions of STPP, which suggests that therapists may need specific training and supervision in order to make the most of STPP’s effectiveness.
Group Therapy for Mood Disorders: A Meta-Analysis
Janis, R.A., Burlingame, G.M., Svien, H., Jensen, J. & Lundgreen, R. (2020): Group therapy for mood disorders: A meta-analysis, Psychotherapy Research, DOI: 10.1080/10503307.2020.1817603
Mood disorders are common mental health problems, with a 12-month prevalence of 7% in the population for major depressive disorder (MDD). Researchers have tested group therapy as a treatment for MDD and bipolar disorder. Recently, the American Psychological Association added group therapy as a specialty, attesting to the empirical evidence of group therapy’s efficacy and also the need for specialized education and training. Despite this, some treatment guidelines do not list group therapy as a first line therapy for major depression. Over the past 10 years, an international group of researchers have conducted a number of meta-analyses on the efficacy of group therapy for many disorders. In this particular meta-analysis, Janis and colleagues assessed the efficacy of group therapy to treat mood disorders by looking at randomized controlled trials of group therapy compared to waitlist controls, treatment as usual, and anti-depressant medications. They identified 42 randomized controlled trials of group therapy for mood disorders that included almost 3,000 patients. Treatment orientations included CBT, DBT, psychodynamic, and interpersonal therapies. For primary outcome measures of depressive symptoms at post treatment, the effect of group therapy versus waitlist controls was large and significant (g = .86, 95% CI [.66, 1.06], p < .001, k = 9), and those receiving group treatment were 6.81 times more likely to recover compared to those waiting for treatment (95% CI [3.70, 12.55]). Group therapy also resulted in better outcomes than treatment as usual on primary outcome measures of depression at post treatment with a medium sized effect (g = 0.46, 95% CI [0.22, 0.87], p < .001, k = 11), and those receiving group therapy were 2.75 times more likely to recover than those receiving treatment as usual (95% CI [1.59, 4.72]). Finally, there was no significant difference between group therapy and medications on rate of change in depressive symptoms or on rates of recovery.
Overall, group therapy was more effective than no treatment and treatment as usual for major depression symptoms. Group therapy was as effective as anti-depressant medications. Group therapy is likely more cost effective because it is a multi-person treatment. Many patients do not respond to medications or they struggle with medication adherence because of unpleasant side effects. And most patients prefer psychotherapy to medications if given the choice. And so, group therapy provides a cost-effective alternative and should be considered as a first line treatment for depression. As indicated by the American Psychological Association’s recognition of group therapy as a specialty, providing group therapy requires specialized education and training in order to offer effective care. Continuing education opportunities exist with the Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy and with the American Group Psychotherapy Association.
Effectiveness and Adherence of Telephone-Administered Psychotherapy
Effectiveness and Adherence of Telephone-Administered Psychotherapy
Castro, A., Gili, M., Ricci-Cagello, I., Roca, M., Gilbody, S., Perez-Ara, A., Segui, A., & McMillan, D. (2020). Effectiveness and adherence of telephone-administered psychotherapy for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 260, 514-526.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in psychotherapy providers moving to online and telephone-delivered interventions. But questions remain about the efficacy of delivering psychotherapy in these formats to patients with depression. Depression is highly prevalent as it affects about 320 million people around the world and causes serious disability and lowered quality of life. Psychotherapy is effective in treating depression, however there are significant barriers to people accessing face-to-face psychotherapy including cost, stigma, distance, and disability. Telephone-delivered psychotherapy may minimize these barriers. One potential question that may arise is whether patients will adhere to telephone-delivered psychotherapy. That is, will patients find telephone sessions acceptable as indicted by the rate of starting therapy and of attending sessions? In this systematic review and meta-analysis, Castro and colleagues evaluated whether telephone-delivered psychotherapy for depression is as effective as other active treatments and more effective than no-treatment. The authors also examined the level of adherence/acceptability to telephone administered treatment, determined by the percent of scheduled sessions actually attended by a patient. The sample of studies was small such the authors only found a total of 11 direct comparison randomized controlled trials. These trials represented almost 1400 patients. The only treatment tested in these trials were CBT-oriented. Four studies found that telephone-delivered therapy produced significantly larger reductions in depressive symptoms when compared to no treatment controls (mean SMD = -0.48; 95% CI: -0.82 to -0.14). In four other studies telephone-administered therapy was just as effective as an active control (e.g., medication or self-help). The weighted average percentage of scheduled telephone sessions that patients attended was 73%, and the percent of patients who started telephone therapy after the initial referral was about 90%. These percentages indicating adherence and acceptability are similar to findings reported from individual psychotherapy studies.
There are few randomized controlled trials that assess the efficacy of telephone-administered psychotherapy, and these studies were limited to only one type of intervention. However, the findings from this meta-analysis suggested that telephone-delivered psychotherapy may be efficacious and as effective as some other active treatments. Further, telephone therapy may be acceptable to patients in that they start and attend sessions at a rate similar to face-to-face therapy. These preliminary findings provide clinicians who provide telephone psychotherapy during this period of physical distancing due to COVID-19 with some evidence for the utility of telephone delivered treatment.