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
Rate of Drop-Out From Psychotherapy Differs by Treatment Type, but Only for Some Disorders
Swift, J. K., & Greenberg, R. P. (2014). A treatment by disorder meta-analysis of dropout from psychotherapy. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 24(3), 193-207.
In one of my first PPRNet Blogs I reported on a meta analysis by Swift and Greenberg (2012) in which they found that almost 1 in 5 patients in clinical trials dropped out of therapy. There were no differences between therapeutic orientations in the drop out rates. However, the authors did report that those with eating disorders (23.9%) and personality disorders (25.6%) dropped out at a higher rate than other disorders. Premature termination from therapy is an important problem in that those who drop out are less satisfied and have poorer outcomes than treatment completers. In this follow up to their meta analysis, Swift and Greenberg ask the interesting question of whether premature termination differs across therapy orientations for any of the specific disorders. They compared the drop out rates of different treatment approaches for each of 12 separate disorders. The studies defined drop out in various ways, including: unilateral termination, not attending a set number of sessions, not achieving clinically significant change, etc. Treatment orientations, included: behavior therapy, cognitive–behavioral therapies, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), psychodynamic psychotherapies, solution-focused therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, humanistic/existential/supportive psychotherapies, and integrative approaches. Primary diagnoses included: depression, eating disorders, borderline personality disorder, other personality disorder, somatoform disorder, bereavement, obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychotic disorders, and social phobia. The authors conducted 12 meta analyses, one for each disorder to compare the therapy approaches. Overall, they included 587 studies. There were no differences in drop out rates among therapy approaches for 9 of the 12 disorders. For depression, integrative therapy had significantly lower drop out rates than other approaches (10.9% vs 19.2%), and for PTSD integrative therapy also had the lowest drop out rate compared to other treatments (8.8% vs 21.0%). Also, for PTSD, exposure based interventions had the highest drop out rates (up to 28.5%). For eating disorders, DBT had the lowest drop out rates compared to other approaches (5.9% vs 24.2%), but this was largely explained by older patient samples and shorter duration of treatment in DBT.
There were no differences between treatments in drop out rates for 9 of 12 disorders. Swift and Greenberg argued that for these disorders, other factors (e.g., therapeutic alliance, client expectations) rather than specific techniques were enough to keep clients in therapy. For depression and PTSD, integrative treatments resulted in the lowest drop out rates. This suggests that therapists might consider incorporating techniques from other orientations that increase the acceptability of therapy for their clients with depression and PTSD. Use of exposure based interventions for PTSD may require a significant amount of work to prepare clients in order to reduce higher drop out rates.
Psychological Interventions for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Gerger, H., Munder, T., Gemperli, E., Nuesch, E., Trelle, S., Juni, P., & Barth, J. (2014). Integrating fragmented evidence by network meta-analysis. Relative effectiveness of psychological interventions for adults with post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychological Medicine, doi:10.1017/S0033291714000853.
Gerger and colleagues conducted a network meta-analysis to summarize the evidence on the effectiveness of psychological interventions for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Psychological trauma is common in the population (between 40% and 90% lifetime prevalence), and many people develop symptoms following the trauma that may turn into PTSD. For example people may re-experience the traumatic event, avoid stimuli related to the traumatic event, or experience increased arousal. Even those who do not meet DSM-IV criteria for PTSD may still have severe impairment and chronic symptoms. Specific interventions for PTSD include exposure to trauma related stimuli or working through cognitions related to the trauma. Non-specific interventions might include supportive therapy or relaxation treatments. As I mentioned in previous blogs, meta-analyses are the best way to summarize the evidence of existing research in order to make clinical decisions about practice. Meta-analyses allow us to pool the effect sizes from individual studies of many patients into an average effect. This method provides the most reliable estimates of the effects of treatments – no single study can be as reliable. Network meta-analysis is a relatively new method that not only allows one to accumulate results from trials that directly compare the same two treatments, but it also allows indirect comparisons of a treatment and another treatment that was tested in a different study. In their network meta-analysis, Gerger and colleagues included 66 studies representing 4,196 patients. Specific treatments included cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT), eye movement disensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and exposure based therapy (ET). Non-specific interventions included stress management (SM) and supportive therapy (ST). The positive effect of specific interventions (CBT, EMDR, and ET) compared to a wait-list control was large. The positive effect of non-specific interventions (SM, ST) compared to a wait-list control was moderate. There were no differences in effectiveness among the psychological interventions, except EMDR outperformed ST. However, this difference disappeared when only the large scale trials were considered (results from large scale trials tend to be more reliable). Patients with a formal diagnosis of PTSD appear to benefit more from psychological interventions than those with sub-clinical PTSD, though both groups improved.
Different specific interventions for PTSD (CBT, EMDR, ET) appear to have similar positive benefits with large effects. Indirect interventions show moderately positive effects. Supportive therapy (ST) may be beneficial, but the authors indicated that it is too early to conclude that ST is as effective as direct specific interventions. All patients benefit from psychological interventions, though those with more severe symptoms stand to gain the most. Given the similar outcomes of interventions and the number of effective interventions, researchers are now arguing that factors such as access, acceptability, and patient preference should influence the choice of treatment.
Indirect Exposure to Trauma Can Lead to Job Burnout and Secondary Traumatic Stress Among Mental Health Providers.
Cieslak, R., Shoji, K., Douglas, A., Melville, E., Luszczynska, A., & Benight, C.C. (2014). A meta-analysis of the relationship between job burnout and secondary traumatic stress among workers with indirect exposure to trauma. Psychological Services, 11, 75-86.
The concept of job burnout was originally developed to document negative consequences of work related exposure to stressful situations experienced by various professionals such as police officers, paramedics, emergency room clinicians, etc. Job burnout can be defined as emotional exhaustion and disengagement. However, recent research on mental health providers has extended the focus beyond job burnout caused by direct exposure, to investigate the consequences of indirect exposure through contact with people who have experienced traumatic events, exposure to graphic trauma content reported by the survivor, or exposure to people’s cruelty to one another. These are sometimes referred to as secondary exposure or indirect exposure to trauma. Professionals indirectly exposed to trauma through their work could experience consequences or symptoms that have been conceptualized as secondary post-traumatic stress, vicarious traumatization, and compassion fatigue, which can collectively be called secondary traumatic stress (STS). STS may include three clusters of symptoms: intrusive re-experiencing of the traumatic material, avoidance of trauma triggers and emotions, and increased physical arousal. Compassion fatigue was defined as a substantial reduction in the mental health providers’ empathic capacity. Cieslak and colleagues (2014) conducted a meta analysis to assess the strength of associations between job burnout and other psychosocial consequences of work-related indirect exposure to trauma in professionals working with trauma survivors. They reviewed 41 studies that included 8,256 workers. The association between secondary traumatic stress (STS) and job burnout in professionals was significant and large. Workers were more likely to experience compassion fatigue and emotional exhaustion compared to PTSD-like symptoms and depersonalization, however, even the association with PTSD-like symptoms and depersonalization was moderate and significant. Both women and men were susceptible to STS, but the effect was larger in women.
Burnout and other consequences of indirect exposure to trauma are likely to be high among mental health professionals. Burnout will affect professionals’ well being and quality of life, and will diminish their effectiveness with patients through reduced empathy and increased disengagement. Mental health professionals who are exposed to secondary trauma should be aware of the potential for negative personal consequences, and assess their own level of emotional exhaustion, empathic capacity, and engagement. Mental health professionals should seek help if they re-experience the events, engage in avoidance of trauma triggers and emotions, and experience heightened arousal. Taking care of oneself through consultation with trusted colleagues, change in work contexts, social supports, and personal therapy could help to forestall compassion fatigue and burnout. Educational programs to improve self awareness and mindful communication may reduce burnout in mental health professionals.
Does Focus on Retelling Trauma Increase Drop-out From Treatments For Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Imel, Z. E., Laska, K., Jakupcak, M., & Simpson, T. L. (2013). Meta-analysis of dropout in treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 81, 394–404.
There are now a number of psychotherapies that the Society of Clinical Psychology list as effective psychotherapies available for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Approaches include prolonged exposure (PE), and cognitive processing therapy (CPT) among others (click here for examples). Therapies for PTSD also vary in how much they focus on retelling the trauma. Some treatments like trauma-focused CBT place a higher level of focus on retelling the trauma event, whereas Present Centred Therapy (PCT), which was originally conceived as a control condition, largely avoids the trauma. Patients may begin a treatment and find some aspect of it distressing resulting in discontinuation. There is ongoing debate regarding the belief that exposure-based treatments, which require the patient to retell traumatic events in detail to his or her therapist, are especially unacceptable or poorly tolerated by patients. Drop out rate is a common metric used to assess tolerability of a treatment. In the April 2013 blog I reported on a meta analysis that found that the average drop out rate in randomized controlled trials of adult psychotherapy was 19.7%. However drop out rates for PTSD in the community can be as high as 56%. Imel and colleagues conducted a meta analysis of drop out rates in randomized controlled trials of treatments for PTSD. They also assessed if drop out rates differed by the amount the therapy focused on retelling the trauma. In the meta analysis, 42 studies were included representing 1,850 patients; 17 of the studies directly compared two or more treatments. The aggregated drop out rates across all studies was 18.28%, which is not different from the rate in randomized trials of adult psychotherapy in general, but is much lower than reported in regular clinical practice. Group treatment was associated with a 12% increase in drop outs compared to individual treatment. In general, an increase in trauma focus was not associated with greater drop out rates. However, when trauma focused treatments were directly compared to PCT (a trauma avoidant intervention) in the same study, trauma-specific treatments were associated with a twofold increase in the odds of dropping out.
Many have been concerned that exposure-based therapies can lead to symptom exacerbation and result in dropout. The findings of Imel and colleagues’ meta analysis suggest that dropout rates are not significantly different among active treatments. However, PCT may be an exception to this general pattern of no differences among active treatments. Perhaps PCT should be considered a first line treatment for those who do not prefer a trauma focused treatment. In addition, providing treatment for PTSD in groups was associated with greater drop out rates possibly due to shame related to public disclosure of the trauma. The authors suggest mimicking research trial procedures in community practice in order to reduce drop out rates, such as: providing therapist training, support, and supervision; careful patient screening; regular assessment of patient progress; and ongoing contact with assistants that may promote session attendance.
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