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
Cognitive Therapy for Depression
Hollon, S.D. & Beck, A.T. (2013). Cognitive and cognitive-behavioral therapies. In M.E. Lambert (Ed.), Bergin and Garfield’s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, 6th Edition (pp. 393-442). New York: Wiley.
Cognitive (CT) and cognitive behavioural therapies (CBT) are among the most empirically supported and widely practiced psychological interventions. CT emphasizes the role of meaning in their models of depression and CT interventions emphasise testing the accuracy of beliefs. More behavioural approaches like CBT see change in terms of classical or operant conditioning of behaviours, in which cognitive strategies are incorporated to facilitate behavioural change. In this section of their chapter, Hollon and Beck review research on CT for depression. Depression is the single most prevalent mental disorder and is a leading cause of disability in the world (see this month’s blog entry on the global burden of depression). Most patients have multiple episodes of depression (i.e., recurrent) and about 25% have episodes that last for 2 years or more (i.e., chronic). CT posits that depressed individuals have negative automatic thoughts that are organized into depressogenic automatic beliefs (or underlying assumptions) that put them at risk for relapse. Automatic beliefs can be organized in latent (or unconscious) schemas often laid down in childhood and activated by later stress that influence the way information is organized. In CT patients are taught to evaluate their beliefs (also called empirical disconfirmation), conduct “experiments” to test their accuracy and to modify core beliefs and reduce maladaptive interpersonal behaviours. Most reviews show that CT for depression is superior to no treatment (with large effects) and at least as effective as alternative psychological or pharmacological interventions. Most patients show a good response to CT with about one third showing complete remission. Although some practice guidelines have concluded that medications are preferred to CBT (or any psychotherapy) for severe depression, more recent meta analyses show that CT is as efficacious as medications and is likely better in the long term. CT also has an enduring effect that protects clients against symptoms returning. Medications, on the other hand suppress depressive symptoms only as long as the patient continues to take the treatment, but medications do not reduce underlying risk. As a result, relapse rates for medication treatment of depression are much higher than for CT. These findings suggest that patients who receive CT learn something that reduces risk for recurrence, which is the single biggest advantage that CT has over medications. Further, CT is free from problematic side effects that may occur with medications.
CT and CBT are the most tested psychological treatments for depression and the evidence indicates that many patients benefit. CT and CBT are as effective as medications for reducing acute distress related to depression, and even for those with more severe depression when implemented by experienced therapists. CT has an enduring effect not found in medications, may also help prevent future episodes of depression, and may prevent relapse after medications are discontinued.
The Process of Cognitive Therapy for Depression
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.
In this section of their chapter in the Handbook, Crits-Christoph and colleagues (2013) review research on: (1) specific techniques of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and (2) change mechanisms of CBT for depression. Research on techniques and mechanisms of change tests the specific or unique effects of a treatment and the rationale for its use. The first issue addresses whether therapist adherence and competence in using CBT techniques produce desired outcomes in patients. CBT techniques include: following an agenda, reviewing homework, asking about specific beliefs, practicing rational responses with patients, and asking patients to keep thought records. Crits-Christoph and colleagues (2013) report that the research findings on the association between using specific CBT techniques and depression outcomes are mixed. The strongest evidence is for concrete techniques such as setting agendas, reviewing homework, and practicing rational responses. However the number of studies that control for prior symptom change and other factors like therapeutic alliance is small, and so the evidence for the specific effects of CBT techniques remains meagre. The second issue addresses whether targeting depressogenic cognitions with CBT results in positive outcomes. Generally, CBT theory argues that the mechanisms by which CBT works is to focus on core depressogenic schemas (i.e., less consciously long held negative beliefs about the self), conscious negative automatic thoughts, and dysfunctional attitudes (i.e., patterns of automatic thoughts) that lead to or maintain depression. Theoretically, addressing these cognitions in CBT should reduce depressive symptoms. Overall, the research shows that both CBT and medication treatment for depression reduce self-reported negative thinking; that is, the effects on negative thinking were not specific to CBT. Few studies show that changes in cognitions precede changes in depressive symptoms, which is a key CBT tenet. The most promising findings suggest that learning compensatory skills (i.e., finding alternative explanations for negative events and thoughts, and problems solving) may be part of the mechanism by which CBT works, but again this mechanism may not be specific to CBT.
CBT is an effective treatment for depression. CBT theory suggests that the reason for its effectiveness is the use of specific techniques (i.e., reviewing homework, asking for specific beliefs, practicing rational responses with patients, and asking patients to keep thought records) that target the purported causes of depression (i.e., depressogenic shemas, negative thoughts, and dysfunctional attitudes). Currently there is little research evidence that supports the specificity of CBT techniques or that supports the notion that specific changes in cognitions as a result of CBT reduce depression. Nevertheless, in general, concrete techniques (i.e., setting agendas, reviewing homework, and practicing rational responses) are clinically useful for depressed patients, as is learning compensatory skills like problem solving.
Combining Medication and Psychotherapy for Schizophrenia
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 can be viewed on Amazon.
Forand, N.R., DeRubeis, R.J., & Amsterdam, J.D. (2013). Combining medication and psychotherapy in the treatment of major mental disorders. In M.J. Lambert (Ed.) Bergin and Garfield’s handbook of psychotherapy and behaviour change (6th ed.), pp. 735-774. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.
This comprehensive chapter covers evidence for combining medication and psychotherapy for several disorders. This month I report on the section of the chapter on schizophrenia. Practice guidelines recommend antipsychotic medications as the first line treatment for Schizophrenia. However, up to 30% of individuals show an initial poor response and an additional 30% of patients continue to experience symptoms. Medication side effects can be debilitating, resulting in poor adherence and therefore reduced effectiveness. Further, Schizophrenia spectrum disorders are heterogenous in presentation and course, and so a “one size fits all” approach will not be effective for some or many. Psychotherapies can enhance the effectiveness of medications at different phases of treatment to hasten recovery or reduce medication-resistant symptoms. CBT for schizophrenia was developed to treat persistent medication-resistant positive psychotic symptoms (i.e., positive symptoms refer to delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech and behaviour; whereas negative symptoms refer to restrictions in: emotions, thoughts, speech, and initiating goal directed behaviors). CBT focuses on reappraising the power and source of hallucinations, evaluating delusions, and addressing motivational deficits. CBT appears to be effective for chronic symptoms of schizophrenia with small to moderate effects, and these effects appear to be enduring. There is currently less and mixed evidence for CBT to speed recovery from first episode psychosis and to improve relapse rates. There is also evidence suggesting the effects of family psychoeducation to reduce relapse and to improve caregiver outcomes. However, family psychoeducation requires the participation of a caregiver, which may be a challenge that limits its utility. There is promising research on multidisciplinary rehabilitation programs that include case management, behaviour management, social skills training, social cognitive training, and cognitive remediation. There is also controversial research on providing psychological interventions alone or in a staged approach (i.e, in which earlier and less severe stages are treated with more benign interventions, and later stages are treated more aggressively with medication). However there are as yet no well-controlled clinical data to support this approach.
Adjunctive psychosocial treatments appear to improve symptomatic and functional outcomes in individuals with schizophrenia spectrum disorders. CBT is best suited for treating chronic positive psychotic symptoms, but its effect on relapse prevention is equivocal. Individuals who are at risk for relapse might benefit from family psychoeducation, if the caregiver can be engaged. Multidisciplinary rehabilitation programs are a promising avenue of treatment.