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
Is There Such a Thing as Expertise in Psychotherapy?
Tracey, T.J.G., Wampold, B.E., Lichtenberg, J.W., & Goodyear, R.K. (2014). Expertise in psychotherapy: An elusive goal? American Psychologist, 69, 218-229.
As I have reported many times in this blog, there is substantial evidence for the efficacy of psychotherapy. However, the quality of psychotherapy differs across therapists – that is, some therapists achieve better client outcomes than others. Tracey and colleagues (2014) ask: is it possible to demonstrate expertise in psychotherapy? They define expertise as “increased quality of performance that is gained with additional experience”. Professions that can demonstrate expertise include: astronomers, test pilots, chess masters, mathematicians, and accountants. But several professions may not demonstrate expertise, including: psychiatrists, college admissions officers, court judges, personnel selectors, and psychotherapists. The difference is that the former group has predictable outcomes and has access to quality feedback. In addition, Tracey and colleagues argue that psychotherapy lacks adequate models for how interventions produce benefits. As a result, adherence to treatment protocols (i.e., manuals) is not reliably associated with better patient outcomes. Further, more experienced therapists are not more effective than less experienced therapists. Experienced therapists might have more complete conceptualizations of client problems, but these conceptualizations may not be accurate. Finally, although therapists affect outcomes, client variables (e.g., motivation, severity of symptoms, expectations) likely explain the largest proportion of outcome variance. Tracey and colleagues argue that part of the problem is that psychotherapists do not engage in “deliberate practice”; that is, practice of a specific task (e.g., identifying a rupture in the alliance), receiving specific feedback (e.g., that a rupture was not identified), opportunity for repetition (e.g., to identify a subsequent rupture in the alliance), and opportunity for improvement afforded by error (e.g., better able to identify a future rupture and repairing that rupture). Generally the practice of psychotherapy provides little feedback about the accuracy of past clinical decisions. In other words there is a lack of quality information to help therapists develop into experts. Further, for a whole host of reasons, psychotherapists are notoriously poor at assessing client progress (i.e., like other humans, therapists engage in a number of biased evaluations of their performance). Quality information might be available from progress monitoring (i.e., continuous feedback to therapists about client outcomes), which has been shown to improve client outcomes. However, this may not aid therapists in developing expertise, since progress monitoring provides little information about what therapist behaviors are necessary to improve performance and client outcomes.
Tracey and colleagues conclude that currently psychotherapy does not provide evidence that it is a profession with expertise. To achieve expertise, therapists need quality information not only about their patients’ outcomes but also about their own average outcomes (i.e. performance) relative to other therapists working with similar clients. And therapists need information on how to manage specific events in psychotherapy. Tracey and colleagues suggest therapists set aside time to generate hypotheses about one’s practice that can be disconfirmed, and then test these hypotheses. For example, if a therapist is experiencing a higher than average number of premature client terminations (which may follow a misunderstanding with the client), the therapist may hypothesize that he or she is not identifying key alliance ruptures. To test this hypothesis, the therapist could repeatedly assess the alliance (with a validated instrument) with some clients, use this information and not clinical judgement alone to identify alliance ruptures (i.e., a week to week severe downward trend in alliance scores), and implement an intervention to repair the alliance with these clients. Do clients with whom a therapist has implemented this procedure drop out at a lower rate? Does this process of deliberately identifying alliance ruptures and repairing them lead to enhanced therapist performance regarding alliance ruptures? This form of deliberate practice (testing disconfirmable hypotheses based on quality information) might lead to greater expertise in identifying alliance ruptures.
How to Identify and Help Clients Who Might Deteriorate
Lambert, M. J. (2012). Helping clinicians to use and learn from research-based systems: The OQ-analyst. Psychotherapy, 49(2), 109.
One of the more interesting and clinically relevant trends in psychotherapy research and practice in the past 10 years is the emergence of research on continuous progress monitoring. Continuous progress monitoring occurs when a patient is given a standardized self report measure before a session and the results of patient functioning are fed back to the therapist. (This is distinct from a clinician asking a patient for a verbal account of how he or she is doing this week). The standardized self report assessment is often done repeatedly, sometimes before every session or every fixed number of sessions. Measures, such as the Outcome Questionnaire (OQ) for adults or youths, was specifically designed for this purpose. The OQ assesses symptoms, interpersonal functioning, and life functioning, and clients are identified as improving (i.e., on course), or at risk of deteriorating. Recently, a small meta analysis of 3 to 4 studies representing 454 to 558 clients on the effects of progress monitoring found a moderate relationship between monitoring plus feedback and client outcomes. The method is particularly effective in changing the course of outcomes for patients who are deteriorating. Large research reviews of evidence based treatments in randomized controlled trials show that about 40% to 60% of patients improve or recover from psychotherapy, 30% to 50% may not benefit, and 3% to 14% deteriorate (see my March 2013 blog). These proportions are likely less positive in everyday practice in which clients are not highly screened to meet research inclusion criteria. Unfortunately, clinicians’ views of their own client outcomes are unrealistically positive. In one survey, clinicians in routine practice reported that about 85% of their clients improved or recovered. About 90% of therapists rated themselves in the upper quartile and none rated themselves as below average (50th percentile). Also there is serious doubt about the ability of clinicians to identify clients during the course of therapy, who ultimately deteriorate. In the paper by Lambert on the use of the Outcome Questionnaire (OQ), he reviewed several studies on continuous progress monitoring in everyday practice. Each therapist was asked to practice as they routinely do with half their usual caseload. With the other half of their caseload clients completed the OQ and the therapist received feedback before every session about patient progress. The feedback did not make a difference for clients who made steady progress (i.e., on track) from week to week. However, continuous progress monitoring did make a difference for the 20% to 30% who showed some sign of deteriorating at some point in treatment. Notifying therapists that these patients were in trouble reduced the rate of deterioration from 20.1% to 5.5%, and monitoring and feedback increased positive outcomes from 22.3% to 55.5%.
Lambert reported that clinicians in these “practice as usual” studies were initially skeptical but quite surprised at the outcomes related to continuous progress monitoring. Standardized assessments appear to get around the problem of clinician over-estimation of their patients’ positive outcomes. Clinicians were able to more accurately identify clients at risk of deteriorating likely resulting in the therapist doing something different to forestall the negative consequences. Lambert argues that it is in the best interest of at-risk patients to have their symptoms, interpersonal functioning, and life functioning formally monitored throughout treatment. However, clinicians are likely to resist doing so because they believe that they are already highly successful, and even more so than the typical outcomes produced by clinical trials. Formal monitoring of client outcomes has little downside for clinicians (it is inexpensive and requires little training), and it has many upsides for clients, especially those who are at risk for deteriorating.
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