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
Practice Implications of Therapeutic Alliance Research
Horvath, A.O., Fluckiger, C., Del Re, A.C., & Symonds, D. (2011). Alliance in individual psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, 48, 9-16.
The psychotherapy alliance is probably the most researched concept in psychotherapy. A PsychInfo search of terms including the word “alliance” will turn up over 7000 hits. Although the concept of alliance has been around at least since the 1950s, the commonly acceptable pan-theoretical definition that is currently used was proposed by Bordin in the 1970s. This definition emphasizes the conscious aspects of the collaboration between therapist and client, and involves three elements: agreement on goals, agreement on tasks, and the bond between client and therapist. What is important in terms of developing the alliance is the therapist’s ability to step back from his or her own agenda and emphasize, prioritize, and negotiate the collaborative relationship. This allows for the selection of an intervention that is congruent with client expectations, which then will foster a high level of mutuality. Horvath and colleagues conducted a large meta analysis of alliance - outcome research from the years 1991 to 2009 that included 190 independent studies and over 14,000 participants. The overall relationship between alliance and outcome was statistically significant and moderate in size. This was a highly reliable effect. The results were consistent regardless of which measure was used, who rated the alliance (client, therapist, independent rater), or what type of treatment was studied (i.e., CBT, IPT, Psychodynamic, etc). Similar results were found in separate published meta analyses of child and adolescent psychotherapy and of family and couple therapy, though the effect is larger in couple therapy.
The quality of the alliance is an index of the level of mutual and collaborative commitment to therapy by the therapist and client. Its distinguishing feature is the focus on therapy as a collaborative enterprise. Establishing a good alliance prevents clients from dropping out, and the sense of collaboration creates a context to introduce new ways of addressing the client’s concerns. In the early phases of therapy, tailoring the methods of therapy (tasks) to suit the specific client’s needs, expectations, and capacities is important in building the alliance. Misjudging the client’s experience of the alliance (i.e., believing that it is in good shape when the client does not share this perception) could render therapeutic interventions less effective. Horvath and colleagues suggest active monitoring the clients’ alliance throughout treatment. Therapists’ nondefensive responses to client negativity or hostility are critical for maintaining a good alliance. Research indicates that therapists who are good at building a strong alliance tend to have better alliances with most of their clients. However, the reverse is also true – some therapists consistently struggle to establish and maintain a good alliance with their clients. The strength of the alliance often fluctuates when therapists’ challenge clients to deal with difficult issues, when misunderstandings arise, and when transference occurs and/or is highlighted. Resolution of these normal variations is associated with good treatment outcomes. The next blog entry discusses research on alliance ruptures and repairs.
Author email: email@example.com
Client Preferences for Psychotherapy
Swift, J. K., Callahan, J. L., Ivanovic, M., & Kominiak, N. (2013, March 11). Further examination of the psychotherapy preference effect: A meta-regression analysis. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031423
Client preferences consist of preferences regarding the type of treatment offered (e.g., preference for psychotherapy or medication, preference for a behavioral approach to treatment or an insight oriented one), desires for a certain type of therapist or provider (e.g., preference for an older therapist, a female provider, or a therapist who has a nurturing personality style), and preferences about what roles and behaviors will take place in session (e.g., preference for the therapist to take a listening role or an advice giving role). In a previously published meta analysis Swift and colleagues (2011) reviewed data from 35 studies that compared preference-matched and non-matched clients. A small but significant preference outcome effect was found, indicating that preference-matched clients show greater improvements over the course of therapy, and that clients whose preferences were not matched were almost twice as likely to discontinue treatment prematurely. In this follow up meta regression study, Swift and colleagues assessed whether preference accommodation is more or less important for types of disorders, types of treatments, or different demographics like sex or age. (Meta regression involves accumulating data from across many studies to assess predictors [e.g., sex, age, diagnosis, treatment type, etc.] of the preference effect). For example, some research has indicated that men prefer therapists with more feminine traits and that men prefer pharmacological interventions. But does accommodating these preferences affect outcomes and drop out rates? Is matching preferences essential for younger clients? Is matching preferences more important for women or ethnic minorities? The authors analysed data from 33 studies representing 6,058 clients to address some of these questions. The only variable that predicted the influence that preferences have on rates of premature termination was the length of the intervention. That is, it may be more important to accommodate client preferences for briefer therapies. Perhaps, as clients continue in therapy for longer durations, other variables such as the therapeutic alliance play a bigger role in determining whether or not one drops out prematurely. It is also possible that as treatment continues, clients may experience a shift in preferences to more closely match the treatment conditions that they were given. Once this shift in preferences has occurred, preferences are no longer mismatched, and the risk of dropping out may be diminished.
This study provides evidence that incorporating client preferences may be important for all types of clients. Generally, when client preferences are accommodated, clients show greater improvements while in treatment and are less likely to discontinue the intervention prematurely. As much as is practical, practitioners might collaboratively work with clients to identify what preferences they hold for treatment, and to discuss those preferences in the context of what is the most effective treatment that is available. This is particularly important for psychotherapies of shorter duration..
Author email: firstname.lastname@example.org
How to Reduce Premature Termination in Your Psychotherapy Practice
Swift, J.K., Greenberg, R.P., Whipple, J.L., & Kominiak, N. (2012). Practice recommendations for reducing premature termination in therapy. Professional Psychology, 43, 379-387.
As discussed in a previous blog entry, Swift and Greenberg (2012) found that almost 20% of adult individual therapy patients drop out of therapy. Dropping out is generally defined as clients unilaterally terminating psychotherapy prior to benefitting fully and against their therapist recommendation. In this paper, Swift and colleagues review five methods with the best research evidence to reduce premature termination. (1) Providing education about duration and course of therapy. Research indicates that 25% of clients expect to recover after only two sessions of therapy, 44% after four sessions, and 62% expect to recover after 8 sessions. However the research literature indicates that it takes 13 to 18 sessions for 50% of clients to recover. Further, although some clients improve quickly and maintain that, some clients may feel worse before they get better, especially if the symptoms are related to painful feelings or events. So aligning client expectations about the length of treatment and the course of treatment may reduce dropping out. This education should be research based to increase the credibility of the information. (2) Providing role induction. Clients who are naıve to therapy may start not knowing what behaviors or roles are most appropriate on their part and could feel lost or like they are doing things wrong. Role induction refers to providing clients with some pre-treatment education or orientation about appropriate therapy behaviors. This could be done by video, verbally, or in writing. A meta analysis found that pre-therapy role induction increases attendance and reduces drop outs. (3) Incorporating client preferences. Client preferences include wants or desires concerning the type of treatment that is to be used, the type of therapist one would like to work with, and the roles and behaviors that are to take place in therapy. A recent meta analysis found that clients who had their preferences accommodated were almost half as likely to drop out of treatment prematurely compared with clients whose preferences were not taken into account. (4) Strengthening early hope. Although it is important that clients do not hold unrealistic expectations (i.e., recovery after only two sessions), it is also important that they have a general hope that therapy can help them get better. Research evidence shows that expectations for change explain as much as 15% of the variance in therapy outcomes. (5) Fostering the therapeutic alliance. The therapeutic alliance involves agreeing on goals and tasks of therapy, and a positive bond between client and therapist. A rupture in the alliance has been associated with dropping out of therapy, and a previous meta analysis found that a stronger alliance was associated with fewer drop outs.
Therapists can do 5 things that are research supported to reduce patient drop outs. (1) Provide education about duration and course of therapy. Practicing clinicians can help their clients to develop realistic expectations about duration and recovery prior to the start of therapy. Clinicians working with a more severely disturbed population or working from an orientation that espouses longer treatment durations may want to alter the education they provide to better fit their clients. (2) Provide role induction. Clinicians can provide education about the “jobs” of both the client and the therapist, such as who is expected to do most of the talking and who will be responsible for structuring or directing sessions. This type of induction should also include a discussion of the rationale for the approach that will be used. (3) Incorporate client preferences. Accommodating client preferences does not mean the therapist should automatically use the client’s preferred methods. Often clients are unaware of what treatment options are available or best suited for their particular problems. Instead, therapists should consider sharing their knowledge about the particular disorder and the nature of different approaches to the treatment of those problems with clients. Clients can then share their preferences regarding those treatment options with the therapist and work collaboratively toward a decision about which approach might be best. (4) Strengthen early hope. Therapists should express confidence that the therapy will work for their patient. Knowing the research evidence on the efficacy of psychotherapy will increase the therapist’s credibility in making such statements. (5) Foster a therapeutic alliance. Efforts to foster the therapeutic alliance should occur early on in therapy when the risk of premature termination is high, and as also therapy progresses. Early efforts should focus on making sure there is an agreement on the goals and tasks before jumping to treatment interventions.
Author email: Joshua.Keith.Swift@gmail.com
Efficacy and Effectiveness of Psychotherapy
Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change: The Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change is perhaps the most important compendium of psychotherapy research covering a large number of research areas. The Handbook is updated approximately every 10 years, and the most recent 6th edition was published in January 2013. In the coming months I will review one chapter a month in addition to commenting on psychotherapy research articles. Book chapters have more restrictive copy right rules about distributing content, so I will not provide author email addresses for these chapters. If you are interested, you can view the table of contents on Amazon.
Lambert, M.J. (2013). The efficacy and effectiveness of psychotherapy. In M.J. Lambert (Ed.) Bergin and Garfield’s handbook of psychotherapy and behaviour change (6th ed.), pp169-218. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.
This comprehensive chapter in the Handbook reviews research on the efficacy and effectiveness of psychotherapy. Lambert’s reviews focus on meta-analyses, which is a way of summarizing effect sizes in a research area. The bottom line is that psychotherapy is effective so that 40% to 60% of clients show substantial benefit in controlled research trials, though the effect is likely smaller in routine practice. Concurrently, a consistent proportion of adults (5% to 10%) deteriorate during psychotherapy. Patients who receive formal treatment are better off than those who receive no treatment, and bona fide treatments are superior to control conditions that provide only some aspects of effective treatment. When psychotherapy is offered by skilful therapists, on average clients experience appreciable gains and return to normal functioning. Fifty percent of patients achieve clinically significant gains after 8 sessions, and 50% achieve recovery after about 20 sessions of psychotherapy. The effects of psychotherapy tend to be long lasting. For example, only 25% treated depressed patients relapse, whereas 50% of those who receive antidepressants relapse. Research continues to support those therapies that have been rigorously tested, and differences in effectiveness between therapy types (e.g., cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychodynamic, interpersonal, etc.) tend to be small or negligible for many disorders. Cognitive behavioural therapy is still the most tested therapy modality, though other treatments are also accumulating evidence of efficacy. Treatment is likely facilitated by a therapeutic relationship that is characterized by trust, understanding, acceptance, kindness, and warmth. The effect of the therapist providing the therapy is at least as large as the effect of different therapy techniques. That is, some therapists are unusually effective, whereas others may not help the majority of patients who seek their services. Continuous monitoring of outcomes and providing regular feedback to the therapist improves the therapy’s effectiveness.
Providers and patients can be assured that a broad range of formally defined and tested psychotherapies when provided by skilful therapists are likely to result in appreciable gains in clients including a return to normal functioning. Therapy relationships characterized by trust, understanding, acceptance, and warmth can greatly facilitate change in depression, anxiety, inadequacy, and inner conflicts. When making a decision about which therapy to choose, clients would be wise to consider the therapist as a person at least as much as the type of therapy being offered. Treatment efforts should be based on the best evidence available for treatment types, therapist behaviors, and relationship factors. Routinely monitoring the effects of therapy with each patient will give the therapist ongoing information about their effectiveness and may improve their patients’ outcomes.
Does Participating in Research Have a Negative Effect on Psychotherapy?
Town, J. M., Diener, M. J., Abbass, A., Leichsenring, F., Driessen, E., & Rabung, S. (2012). A meta-analysis of psychodynamic psychotherapy outcomes: Evaluating the effects of research-specific procedures. Psychotherapy, 49, 276-290.
One of the main reasons that some clinicians do not participate in research is that they argue that doing so will have a negative impact on the therapeutic relationship, the therapy process, and patient outcomes. Although I have heard this from clinicians of many theoretical orientations, this opinion is perhaps most strongly held by some colleagues with a psychodynamic orientation. I identify with psychodynamic theory and practice, so this opinion about research held by some of my colleagues has been very disconcerting to me. Up to now, the best I could say in defense of practice-based research of psychodynamic therapy was to talk about my own experiences, which have been highly positive and rewarding. A recent meta analysis by Town and colleagues from Dalhousie University changes all that. (First, a note about meta analysis. Meta analysis is a statistical way of combining the effects of many studies, each of which has a number of participants, into a common metric called an effect size. By combining studies, the end result is more meaningful and more reliable than the results of any single study on its own.). The meta analysis by Town and colleagues had 45 independent samples and over 1600 patients. Results indicated that psychodynamic treatments for a variety of disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, personality disorders) showed a significant large positive treatment effect – this is not new. What is new is that compared to conditions in which no research-specific protocols were introduced, conditions that did use research protocols were no different in terms of patient outcomes up to one year post treatment. There was even a significant small positive effect of these research protocols on outcomes from post treatment to one year post treatment. Research-specific protocols included video recordings of therapy sessions, therapists following treatment manuals, fidelity checks to make sure therapists were accurately doing psychodynamic therapy, and psychometric measurements of processes and outcomes
Research protocols do not have a negative impact on psychodynamic therapy outcomes. Perhaps research protocols should be introduced into all therapies to improve longer term outcomes in addition to studying therapy procedures and processes that work.
Author email: email@example.com