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
Adapting Psychotherapy to Patient Resistance Level
Beutler, L. E., Edwards, C., & Someah, K. (2018). Adapting psychotherapy to patient reactance level: A meta‐analytic review. Journal of Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication.
This is another meta-analysis part of the Psychotherapy Relationships That Work series. In this study Beutler and colleagues looked at client resistance and its more extreme form, reactance. Resistance refers to a client avoiding to make changes advocated by the therapist, whereas reactance indicates not only that a client resists but also moves in a direction away from what the therapist is advocating. Social psychologists define resistance as a state of mind aroused by threat to one’s freedom and then attempts to restore one’s freedom. Resistance and reactance are relational concepts – that is, they are not only qualities of the client but defined by the therapeutic relationship. Therapists play a role in resistance by the degree to which they are directive, and by their ability to adjust their level of directiveness or control to the client’s characteristics. Therapist directiveness refers to the degree to which a therapist uses suggestion, interpretation, and assignments in therapy, such as: homework, setting topics, and leading the session. One way for a therapist to adjust their interpersonal stance is to reduce their level of directiveness with clients who are more resistant. In this meta-analysis, Beutler and colleagues reviewed 13 studies representing 1,028 clients. The aggregate effect size for the association between client reactance and therapist directiveness with client outcomes was d = 0.78 (SE = 0.1; p < .001; 95% CI: 0.60–0.97), which is large and significant. In other words, if a therapist adjusted their level of control by lowering it in the face of a resistant client, then client outcomes were better. The opposite was also true, if a therapist increased their directiveness for clients who were less resistant then those clients had better outcomes.
The results indicate that if client resistance or reactance is not met with confrontation and control, but with acceptance and non-defensiveness, the client may have a better outcome. Resistant or reactant clients will likely do better in a therapy that is less directive, whereas clients with lower levels of resistance may do better with more directive interventions. Therapists may do well to assess routinely the level of a client’s resistance, and adjust their interventions accordingly. Highly resistant clients may need a more collaborative approach, and a transparent discussion that focuses on the impact of certain interventions and therapist interpersonal stances on the client’s sense of control and personal freedom in the therapy.
Are Psychotherapies With More Dropouts Less Effective?
Reich, C.M. & Berman, J.S. (2018). Are psychotherapies with more dropouts less effective? Psychotherapy Research. Online first publication.
The client dropout rate in clinical studies is about 20%, and almost double that in regular clinical practice. A dropout is a unilateral decision on the part of the patient to discontinue treatment after the first session. This is often viewed as a treatment failure, but it is possible that some patients feel better enough to not continue with therapy, and others may have practical constraints like transportation or childcare difficulties. In three meta analyses, Reich and Berman ask: (1) do those who drop out experience more distress than completers to begin with?, (2) do completers have better outcomes than drop outs?, and (3) do less effective treatments also have more drop outs? In general, the studies included different types of psychotherapy but most were CBT (~75%), most therapists had a masters or doctoral degree (~33%) but many studies also included student therapists (~25%), client problems included depression (~17%), anxiety (25%), or other disorders, and most studies were randomized controlled trials (~61%). To answer the first question the authors conducted a meta analysis of 76 studies. Clients who dropped out of therapy were in more distress prior to beginning treatment than individuals who completed the treatment (d= − 0.14, 95% CI [− 0.08, − 0.20], p < .001). The effect was small but significant. Younger and male clients tended to be in more distress at pre-treatment. To answer the second question, the authors conducted a meta analysis of 43 studies. Clients who dropped out of therapy were significantly more distressed following therapy than individuals who completed treatment (d = .0.56, 95% CI [.0.37, 0.70] p < .001). This was a moderately large and significant effect. To answer the third question, the authors completed a meta regression of data in 34 studies. Overall, treatments with more drop outs also had completers with worse outcomes at post treatment, β = -.37, SE = 0.17, p < .05. Also, when treatments were shorter in length, greater overall dropout was associated with even worse outcomes for treatment completers, β = − 1.28, SE = 0.35, p < .001.
These meta analyses support the notion that on average those who drop out do so because they do not find the treatment to be helpful. Patients who drop out tend to be more distressed to begin with, and are more likely to be young and male. An intriguing finding was that those treatments with more drop outs also tended to be less effective for those who completed the therapy. In other words, effective treatments also tended to maintain more patients. Previously, writers suggested clinically useful methods to reduce premature termination from psychotherapy. These include: providing patients with information about duration of therapy and how change occurs, educating patients about therapist and patient roles, taking into account patient preferences when deciding on treatment methods and therapist stances, strengthening early hope, fostering the therapeutic alliance, and assessing and discussing treatment progress on an ongoing basis.
To Manualize or Not to Manualize
Truijens, F., Zühlke‐van Hulzen, L., & Vanheule, S. (2018). To manualize, or not to manualize: Is that still the question? A systematic review of empirical evidence for manual superiority in psychological treatment. Journal of Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication.
In 2010 Webb and colleagues published a meta-analysis in which they showed that the association between adherence to a psychotherapy manual and treatment outcome was close to zero. The same was true for therapist competence in delivering the manualized psychotherapy – almost no relationship to client outcome. Psychotherapy manuals typically specify the theoretical basis for an intervention, the number and sequencing of treatment sessions, the content and objective of sessions, and the procedures of each session. National institutes in the US and the UK have promoted manuals as a means to define what is evidence-based psychotherapy. By doing so these institutes assume that psychotherapy that is manualized is more effective that non-manualized treatment. However, detractors have argued that: (1) strict adherence to manuals may reduce therapists’ ability to individualize treatment to client needs and characteristics; (2) manuals are often designed for single disorders but clients tend to have many comorbid conditions; and (3) it is impossible for clinicians to gain competence in all different manuals for the various client conditions they may encounter. In this systematic review, Truijens and colleagues ask: does the use of manuals increase therapy effectiveness? To answer this question they conducted three different systematic reviews. First, they reviewed six studies that directly compared manualized versus non-manualized versions of a psychotherapy within the same study. One study showed manuals were superior, three showed no difference, and two studies showed that non-manualized therapies were more effective. Second, they reviewed eight meta-analyses that compared the pre- to post-treatment effect sizes of manualized therapies and of non-manualized therapies versus no-treatment control conditions. Three meta-analyses concluded that manualized therapies were superior, four meta-analyses did not find differences, and one observed non-manualized treatments to be superior. Third, the authors reviewed 15 additional studies to those reviewed by Webb and colleagues in their original meta-analysis. Overall, Truijens found similar results that support the conclusion that the level of adherence to psychotherapy manuals is not substantially related to better treatment outcomes.
Although treatment manuals may be helpful for training purposes and to ensure validity in psychotherapy research, there is actually little consistent evidence that adhering to a manual results in better client outcomes. Some have argued that rigid adherence to a treatment manual can be harmful to clients. Therapists may need to take a flexible stance when applying research-supported therapeutic principles and interventions. Such a stance adjusts therapy to take into account client characteristics like level of resistance, coping style, attachment style, and others. Truly evidence-informed approaches incorporate what we know about client characteristics, therapeutic relationship factors, and therapist factors to promote positive outcomes in psychotherapy clients.
Early Maladaptive Schemas and Coping Make Psychotherapists Vulnerable to Burnout
Simpson, S., Simionato, G., Smout, M., van Vresswijk, M.F., Hayes, C., Sougleris, C., & Reid, C. (2018). Burnout amongst clinical and counselling psychologist: The role of early maladaptive schemas and coping modes as vulnerability factors. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Online first DOI: 10.1002/cpp.2328.
Burnout in health professionals has become a global problem, with between 21% and 67% of mental health professionals reporting high levels. Researchers define burnout as including three components: emotional exhaustion (feeling emotionally exhausted from the work), depersonalization (feeling disconnected from patients), and reduced personal accomplishment in one’s work. Burnout is related to reduced capacity to perform professionally and to provide adequate care to patients. Much of the research has focused on institutional and workload factors as causes of burnout in health professionals. However, interpersonal factors like therapists’ early maladaptive schemas and coping mechanisms may also increase vulnerability to burnout. Early maladaptive schemas are self-defeating core beliefs and patterns that are repeated throughout one’s life and that have their origin in early life experiences. Maladaptive coping are thoughts and behaviors that one repeatedly engages in an unconscious or automatic way to minimize the activation of early maladaptive schemas. Maladaptive coping might include detachment, self-aggrandizement, attacking others, or over-compliance. In this study, Simpson and colleagues surveyed 443 clinical or counseling psychologists in Australia to assess if in fact early maladaptive schemas and maladaptive coping predicted burnout over and above job demands like workload. The mean age of the psychologists was 42.93 years (SD = 11.53), most were women (80.4%), who were married (52.8%), had attained a Masters degree (45.6%), and worked either in outpatient mental health centres (39.7%) or in private practice (33%). Most of the therapists (67%) indicated that over 50% of their client work involved trauma. Of the sample, 49.7% indicated at least a moderately high level of burnout on a standardized questionnaire, with emotional exhaustion as the highest type of burnout. The most common early maladaptive schemas among the psychologists were unrelenting standards and self-sacrifice. Detached coping was the most common coping mode. In terms of predicting burnout, job demands accounted for 10% of the variance in burnout, early maladaptive schemas accounted for an additional 18% of the variance in burnout over and above job demands, and maladaptive coping accounted for an additional 6% beyond maladaptive schemas and job demands.
Work – life balance, managing clients with chronic and complex issues, and working with clients who experienced trauma can cause distress in mental health providers. Psychologists’ early maladaptive schemas like unrelenting standards and self-sacrifice in addition to maladaptive detached coping may represent the foundation of countertransference for some psychotherapists. These were significant predictors of therapist emotional exhaustion over and above workload. Psychotherapists would benefit from an increased awareness of their own early maladaptive schemas and coping mechanisms. Self-care, including professional development, consultations, peer support groups, and personal therapy throughout one’s career could reduce one’s susceptibility to burnout.
A Wake up Call on Psychotherapists’ Mental Health
Laverdière, O., Kealy, D., Ogrodniczuk, J. S., & Morin, A. J. S. (2018). Psychological health profiles of Canadian psychotherapists: A wake up call on psychotherapists’ mental health. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 59(4), 315-322.
Patients prefer to work with psychotherapists whom they perceive as psychologically healthy and satisfied with their lives. Psychological health and satisfaction in therapists may be related to their ability to manage their own reactions to clients (countertransference), as well as to their ability to maintain personal and psychological well-being. However, the work circumstances on psychotherapists may compromise their psychological health. Patients often present in ways that may result in emotional reactions in therapists, such as self-doubt and frustration. Also, therapists may develop vicarious or secondary traumatic stress when exposed to patients with a history of trauma. Such emotional stressors may overwhelm therapists and contribute to burnout, distress, and lower quality of life. Previous research found that difficulties in therapist mental health may lead to emotional disengagement, patient early termination, and a lowered therapeutic alliance. Large-scale international surveys indicate that 87% of psychotherapists were involved in psychotherapy at some point in their careers. This suggests that many psychotherapists understand or have experienced the hazards of their work. In this survey of registered Canadian psychotherapists, Laverdière and colleagues were interested in the self-reported psychological health of psychotherapists. The sample included 240 psychotherapists who were mostly women (78%) and psychologists (84%), with a mean age of 42 years (SD = 11.66), practicing psychotherapy for an average of 13 years (SD = 9.42), and working primarily in independent practice (40%) or in an institutional setting (40%). Most identified their primary theoretical orientation as psychodynamic (31%), CBT (31%), integrative (22%), or humanistic (15%). Using a standardized measure of burnout, the authors found that 22% of psychotherapists were experiencing high levels of emotional exhaustion (with a further 20% in the moderate range), and 12% experienced a high level of depersonalization. Only 8% could be classified as having probable serious mental health issues and life dissatisfaction. The authors then developed statistical profiles of psychotherapists using latent class analysis. Using these profiles, 35% of psychotherapists were characterized by moderately high levels of burnout and distress and moderately low quality of life. A further 12% of psychotherapists had very high levels of burnout and distress and very low quality of life. Those with healthier profiles tended to be more experienced (B = .14, p = .008, OR = 1.15) and to have lower perceived workload (B = -1.10, p = .006, OR = .33).
One in five psychotherapists in this survey were experiencing high levels of emotional exhaustion, and another 20% were in the moderately high range. Emotionally exhausted professionals are at higher risk of making errors, depersonalizing patients, and becoming emotionally exhausted. Psychotherapists at higher risk would benefit from organizational and therapeutic interventions. Peer support groups may help to alleviate some of the distress, as would regular consultation and supervision that partly focuses on countertransference and managing the stress of working with traumatized patients. Psychotherapists need to be aware of the risks involved in having a high workload, which is a well-known risk factor for poor mental health at work. On the positive side, greater experience as a psychotherapist may be a protective factor. Experience may bring with it more self-confidence, greater emotion regulation skills, and a better ability to manage countertransference.
The Evidence for Countertransference Management
Hayes, J. A., Gelso, C. J., Goldberg, S., & Kivlighan, D. M. (2018). Countertransference management and effective psychotherapy: Meta-analytic findings. Psychotherapy, 55(4), 496-507.
This is another meta analysis from the Psychotherapy Relationship That Work series that will be published in a book by Norcross and Wampold in 2019. Psychotherapists’ unresolved personal conflicts and the cognitive, emotional, or behavioural manifestations of these conflicts in therapy are called countertransference. Countertransference can result in reactions within the therapist that negatively affect their relationship with patients and patient outcomes. Successfully managing these reactions may be an important aspect of positive outcomes in psychotherapy. The old view of countertransference, dating back to Freud, was that countertransference was detrimental to therapy, and therapists had to work to keep their personal reactions out of therapy. More contemporary views see therapist countertransference as inevitable and as providing potentially important information about the patient. In their model of countertransference management, Hayes and Gelso identified five aspects managing countertransference. 1) Origins of countertransference refer to therapists gaining an understanding of their unresolved issues from their past that can interact with patient characteristics in therapy (therapist unresolved family issues, low professional self esteem). 2) Triggers refer to specific issues within the patient that stimulate a specific unresolved issue in the therapist (the patient is competitive and the therapist has a fragile professional self esteem). 3) Manifestations refer to therapist cognitive, behavioural, or affective reactions to triggers and origins (the therapist puts the competitive client in his or her place). 4) Effects refer to the impact of countertransference manifestations on the therapy process or outcome (patient who is put in his or her place drops out or goes silent). 5) Management refers to therapists’ strategies to manage countertransference, including self awareness, self care, consultation and supervision, or personal therapy. In this series of meta analyses, Hayes and colleagues found that: (1) countertransference reactions are associated with poorer therapy outcomes (r = -.16, p = .02, 95% CI [-.30, -.03], d = -0.33, k = 14 studies, N = 973); (2) therapists’ management of countertransference reduces countertransference reactions (r = -.27, p = .001, 95% CI [-.43, -.10], d = -0.55, k = 13 studies, N = 1,065); and (3) successful countertransference management is related to better therapy outcomes (r = .39, p = .001, 95% CI [.17, .60], d = 0.84, k = 9 studies, N = 392 participants).
The research on countertransference management is still in its early stages but results are promising. Therapists’ ability to identify unresolved issues within themselves, how these issues interact with specific patient behaviors and clinical presentations, and management of therapist reactions are important to their work. The work of psychotherapy is fraught with emotional challenges and potential pitfalls for the therapist. Every therapist will experience confusing or challenging emotional reactions to a client. Better understanding and management of these reactions and their manifestations will not only lead to better patient outcomes, but also to greater therapist personal well-being and work satisfaction.