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
Mental Health Disorders Increase Health Care Utilization in Adults with Chronic Disease
Mental Health Disorders Increase Health Care Utilization in Adults with Chronic Disease
Sporinova B, Manns B, Tonelli M, et al. (2019). Association of mental health disorders with health care utilization and costs among adults with chronic cisease. JAMA Network Open. Published online: 2(8):e199910. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.9910
Chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic kidney disease are common and represent a major burden on the individual and on society. So much so that chronic diseases represent about 60% of global disease burden. There is also a documented association between mental and physical health, such that mortality in cancer, diabetes, and following a heart attack is significantly higher in those with depression. The cost of chronic disease to the Canadian economy represents about 60% of the annual health care budget, and depression alone has a $32.3 billion impact on the Canadian economy. In this economic study, Sporinova and colleagues sought to quantify the impact of having a mental disorder on health care utilization and cost for those with chronic diseases. The study used a large data base of adults from Alberta, Canada who had at least one chronic disease including asthma, COPD, heart failure, myocardial infarction, diabetes, epilepsy, and chronic kidney disease. Mental disorders were defined as a concurrent diagnosis of depression, schizophrenia, or substance use disorder. Factors like sex, income, and rural residency were controlled in the analyses. Of the cohort with a chronic illness, 15.8% had a mental disorder, with depression as the most common mental disorder at 11.2%. People with chronic illness and a mental disorder tended to be younger, women, with a lower socio-economic status, and they tended to die at a higher rate during the study period. The mean total 3-year health costs of those with a chronic illness was $20,210 (95% CI: $19,674, $20,750) Canadian dollars, whereas for those with a concurrent mental disorder the cost was significantly higher at $38,250 (95% CI: $36,476, $39,935). Higher costs were driven by greater hospitalizations, prescription drug use, and physician visits. Costs were higher for older people, and for those with more than one mental disorder.
The results clearly indicated that an important proportion of those with chronic illnesses were also diagnosed with a mental disorder. Further, a diagnosis of a mental disorder drove up the burden of the chronic illness significantly, both for the individual and for the health care system. Past research indicated improved medical outcomes when treating depression in medical patients. And so, although the physical symptoms of chronic illness may appear prominent, clinicians must treat mental health problems when they exist concurrently, if they want to improve patient medical and mental health outcomes.
Coming to a Consensus About Psychotherapy
Coming to a Consensus About Psychotherapy
Goldfried, M. R. (2019). Obtaining consensus in psychotherapy: What holds us back? American Psychologist, 74(4), 484-496.
In this thoughtful piece, Marvin Goldfried, one of the pioneers of psychotherapy research, discussed the lack of consensus that holds back progress in the science and practice of psychotherapy. He argued that there are three main blocks to moving the field forward. First, disagreement across theoretical orientations results in different language systems that prevents the field from learning of similarities or points of connection. At last count, there are over 500 schools of psychotherapy resulting in an absence of a common language. A lack of consensus and disparate languages means that identifying the key factors that may underlie the effectiveness of psychotherapy is difficult if not impossible. The second block to progress in psychotherapy practice and research has to do with the practice-research divide. Despite the large body of research on psychotherapy systems, many clinicians rely more on their own experience rather than the research evidence. Therapists also complain that research tends to be conducted by individuals who know little of the reality of providing clinical services, and so some of what is researched (e.g., short-term treatment packages of one theoretical orientation) may not be relevant to everyday practice. For their part, researchers have tended not to consult with or include clinicians in their research endeavors, thus resulting in research that is disconnected from practice. The third block is related to the disconnection between the past and current contributions. That is, psychotherapy schools and orientations tend to emphasize and reward what is new without acknowledging the historical, intellectual, and practical theories that preceded. As a result, there is a constant reinventing of the wheel and a tendency not to learn from past advances and failures. This creates a stagnation in advancing both research and practice. As one example of this phenomenon, Goldfried quoted the psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel in 1941 who described the effects of what we now call behavioral extinction. Yet Fenichel and his work is never cited by behavior therapy research, and so there is no opportunity to examine common underlying processes of change or the evolution of the concept over time.
Goldfried ended this paper by suggesting how to move the field of psychotherapy forward. He suggested that rather than focusing on new approaches to treatment, the field should reward new knowledge grounded in research and that belongs to the field in general and not to a particular school, orientation, or person. The emphasis of research in psychotherapy should not be on who is right but on what is right. In other words, research questions should emphasize “What did a therapist do to make an impact?” For example, psychotherapy process research on the therapeutic alliance, stages of change, therapist interpersonal skills, empathy, and client factors focus on transtheoretical constructs that inform therapists on how best to work with particular clients. This PPRNet blog often summarizes psychotherapy research for its readers.
Client Stage of Change Predicts Their Outcomes in Psychotherapy
Client Stage of Change Predicts Their Outcomes in Psychotherapy
Krebs, P., Norcross, J.C., Nicholson, J.M., & Prochaska, J.O. (2018). Stages of change and psychotherapy outcomes: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 74, 1964-1979.
Next to the therapeutic alliance, client stage of change is one of the most researched concepts in psychotherapy. The theory posits that clients come for treatment with varying levels of motivation, preparation, and capacity for behavior change. And their overall readiness for change influences the process and outcome of the psychotherapy they receive. Researchers have identified five stages that clients may go through during the change process, and they identified most effective therapist stances to help clients move from one stage to the next. Precontemplation is the stage in which the client has no intention of changing, and they may have been coerced into coming to therapy. During this stage therapists may help the client increase their awareness of the advantages of changing and the costs of not changing. Contemplation is the stage in which the client is aware that there is a problem, but has not yet made a commitment to take action. During this stage the client may face the sadness or anxiety related to letting go of behaviors that no longer work. Therapists may help a client to re-evaluate themselves should they change their behaviors. Preparation is a stage in which the individual is fully intending to take action, and they may make small behavioral changes. Therapists may help clients in this stage to act on their belief that they have the ability to change their behavior. Action is the stage in which clients modify their behaviors or environment to overcome their problems. Therapists may help clients at this stage by ensuring clients perceive adequate reinforcements for their efforts and resist the tendency to avoid problematic situations or feelings. Finally, the maintenance stage is the point at which clients have made desirable changes and now work to prevent relapse and consolidate gains. Therapists may help individuals during the maintenance phase to be prepared for or to avoid situations that may induce relapse. A key aspect of therapist stances related to client stages of change is exemplified by the process of motivational interviewing, in which the therapist works with the client’s resistance rather than taking a confrontational stance. In this meta-analysis, Krebs and colleagues systematically reviewed the literature on stages of change and summarize 76 studies with over 21,000 clients. The association between stage of change and client outcome was significant and moderate in effect size (d = 0.41; 95% CI: 0.34, 0.48). That is the stage of change at which the client starts has a measurable impact on their outcomes, with pre-contemplation being related to poorest outcomes, and action being related to best outcomes. These results were consistent across theoretical orientations. In a second meta-analysis, the authors found that tailored interventions to move clients to more advanced stages of change were significantly related to better outcomes, though the effects were small (d = 0.18; 95% CI: 0.16, 0.20).
The stage of change theory is transtheoretical – that is, it operates across most therapeutic situations and clients. The findings of this meta-analysis indicate that therapists who know the client’s stage of change and who act accordingly will improve their client’s outcomes. Many therapists tend to believe that their clients are at the action stage, but this may not be the case. Treating someone who is contemplating change as if they are ready to make changes may be counter-therapeutic as it represents a mismatch of goals. Hence, therapists should work with clients to set realistic goals for therapy, and therapists should keep in mind that a patient who is not ready to change will not likely change if confronted. The best strategy may be to discuss with the client the risks and benefits of their behaviors, and help them make a decision of how or if to move forward with therapy.
Misadventures of the American Psychological Association Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of PTSD
Courtois, C. A. & Brown, L. S. (2019). Guideline orthodoxy and resulting limitations of the American Psychological Association’s Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of PTSD in Adults. Psychotherapy, 56(3), 329-339.
Recently the American Psychological Association (APA) published clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The reaction from the clinical community that treats those with PTSD, client groups, and from many academic and research quarters was swift and negative. APA received almost 900 comments in their public consultations from many who felt the document was overly prescriptive, overly symptom-focused, and narrow in its recommendations. In this interesting inside look at the process, the Chair of the PTSD Practice Guidelines Committee (Christine Courtois) and a senior member of the Committee (Laura Brown) wrote a scathing commentary of the process imposed on them by APA that constrained the Committee’s access to information which affected their decisions. The Committee was bound by APA’s use of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) rules for developing practice guidelines. In other words, a psychological organization (APA) used a biomedical model to define what is relevant research, how to define treatment, what is an appropriate outcome, and how to decide on recommendations. As a result, the APA Committee reached several conclusions/decisions that were biased or premature. First, they defined PTSD only by its symptom presentation and not for the complex disorder that it is. In other words, PTSD was viewed almost exclusively from within a framework that defined it as only a fear-based response to a stressor. Such an approach downplays any developmental or attachment-related factors in the genesis or maintenance of PTSD. Second, the Committee was instructed to ignore a vast array of research on therapist factors, relationship factors, and client factors in psychotherapy. This runs counter to many clinicians’ views that one cannot engage in technical interventions related to PTSD symptoms without the patient experiencing a heightened sense of security in their relationship with the therapist. This also meant that the Committee largely ignored cultural and diversity factors. Third, the treatment recommendations focused on time-limited exposure-based interventions – which is a natural outcome of the first two decisions (i.e., seeing PTSD as only fear-based, ignoring issues of development, and ignoring relational factors in the treatment context). The authors were also disappointed that the APA ignored its own policy on evidence-based practice that puts equal weight on research, clinician expertise, and client factors when making clinical decisions. In the end the authors clearly were not confident in the narrow focus of the Clinical Practice Guideline, and they were concerned that clinicians, researchers, policy makers, and third party funders could misuse the Guideline to limit research, theory, and funding.
In this extraordinary piece, the Chair and a senior committee member of the PTSD Practice Guideline Committee were highly critical of the process and outcome of APA’s effort to develop clinical practice guidelines for PTSD. The authors did not diminish the importance of exposure-based interventions for PTSD, however they did argue that these interventions must be offered only after clinicians take a sufficient amount of time to create a clinical context characterized by clients experiencing heightened safety in the therapeutic relationship, and to into account client preferences and culture. Further, clinicians should be highly sensitive to attachment-related insecurities and developmental traumas that may lengthen the treatment and that may have a complicating impact on the therapeutic relationship.
Therapeutic Relationship and Therapist Responsiveness in the Treatment of PTSD
Norcross, J. C., & Wampold, B. E. (2019). Relationships and responsiveness in the psychological treatment of trauma: The tragedy of the APA Clinical Practice Guideline. Psychotherapy, 56(3), 391-399.
The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Clinical Practice Guideline for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Adults published in 2017 was met with a great deal of concern and criticism by the community of scholars and practitioners working with patients with PTSD. A key concern was that the APA used a biomedical model and not a psychological or contextual model in guiding their understanding of PTSD, their approach to what constitutes evidence, and to decisions about recommended treatments. In particular, the biomedical approach focuses almost exclusively on treatment methods, and down-plays the context of treatment (i.e., the relationship, patient factors, and therapist responsiveness). In this critique, Norcross and Wampold highlight the flaws in the APA Clinical Practice Guideline for PTSD, and the authors focus specifically on those variables that are known to predict patient outcomes but that were ignored by the Guideline. Norcross and Wampold highlighted that there exists numerous meta analyses that demonstrate that all bona fide psychotherapies work about equally well for trauma, and that the particular treatment method has little impact on PTSD outcomes. Yet, the restrictive review process undertaken by APA all but ignored this well-established finding. Also ignored was the research on the importance of the therapeutic relationship in the treatment of trauma. One review outlined nineteen studies that found that the therapeutic alliance was associated with or predicted reduction in PTSD symptoms. This is consistent with the general psychotherapy research literature, in which the alliance is the most researched and most reliable factor related to patient outcomes. Also missing from the PTSD Guideline was reference to a large body of research on therapist responsiveness to patient characteristics. Patients are more likely to improve if their therapists can adapt to the patient’s coping style, culture, preferences, level of resistance, and stage of change. In one study of cognitive-processing therapy (CPT; a treatment recommended by the APA Guideline), there were substantial differences between therapists in their patient’s PTSD symptom outcomes. That is, some therapists reliably were more effective than others, even though all therapists were trained in and supervised in providing the same manualized evidence-based treatment. Among the identified skills of the most effective CPT therapists were: a flexible interpersonal style, and an ability to develop and maintain a good therapeutic alliance across patients.
There is growing consensus that the APA Clinical Practice Guideline for PTSD are based on dubious methodology and are of limited use to therapists and their patients with PTSD. Psychotherapists should practice a bona-fide therapy for PTSD, but should do so by taking into account the treatment context. In other words, more effective therapists are good at developing, maintaining, and repairing the therapeutic alliance across a range of patients. Effective therapists can also respond and adapt to patient characteristics such as level of resistance, coping style, culture, and stage of change. And so, even when providing a treatment based on the APA Guideline, therapists should nurture trust in the therapeutic relationship and be adaptive to their patients’ characteristics.
Psychotherapy or Pharmacology for the Treatment of PTSD
Merz, J., Schwarzer, G., & Gerger, H. (2019). Comparative efficacy and acceptability of pharmacological, psychotherapeutic, and combination treatments in adults with posttraumatic stress disorder: A network meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry, 76, 904-91.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a highly debilitating disorder characterized by re-experiencing trauma, avoidance of situations related to the trauma, negative mood and cognitions, and hyperarousal. The lifetime prevalence of PTSD in the population is about 8%, and PTSD is associated with a great deal of medical problems, and social and economic burden. Difference between a variety of psychological treatment approaches for PTSD are small and not statistically significant. Some treatment guidelines tend to recommend both psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy to treat PTSD, but other guidelines indicate only psychotherapy as the first-line treatment. Merz and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis to examine comparative outcomes and acceptability of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy and their combination in adults with PTSD. The authors focused on randomized controlled trials because these designs tend to produce the most reliable evidence. The authors identified 12 published studies with a total of 922 participants. Six of the studies included data on long term outcomes. The meta-analytic procedures that the authors used in this study included network meta-analyses (which some have argued may produce unreliable results) and direct comparison meta-analysis (which is more reliable, but resulted in fewer studies being included here). I report in this blog only results that were consistent between the network and direct comparison analyses. Pharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatments and their combinations were not significantly different in their effectiveness immediately post-treatment. However, at long-term follow-up psychotherapy was significantly more beneficial than pharmacotherapy (SMD, −0.63; 95% CI, −1.18 to −0.09). Combined psychotherapy plus pharmacotherapy was not significantly more effective that pharmacotherapy alone (SMD, −1.02; 95% CI, −2.77 to 0.72), and combined treatment was not more effective that psychotherapy alone (SMD, 0.06; 95% CI, −0.31 to 0.42). There were also no statistically significant differences between psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, or their combination in the acceptability of treatments to participants as defined by differing rates of dropping out from the studies.
This meta-analysis of a small number of studies suggests that psychotherapy produces better long-term outcomes than pharmacotherapy for PTSD. There is also a suggestion that combining psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy does not improve outcomes compared to either treatment alone. This research area seems to be new and not well developed, but so far, the results seem to favor psychotherapy for longer term outcomes. These findings are similar to those from a larger meta-analysis for depression. In that study, the authors suggested that the long-term benefit of psychotherapy was due to participants learning coping and interpersonal skills that were not gained from receiving pharmacological intervention alone.