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
Therapist Multicultural Orientation and Client Outcomes
Hayes, J. A., Owen, J., Nissen-Lie, H. A. (2017). The contribution of client culture to differential therapist effectiveness. In L. G. Castonguay and C. E. Hill (Eds.) How and why are some therapists better than others? Understanding therapist effects (Ch. 9). Washington: American Psychological Association.
Some therapists may have better client outcomes because they are more adept at working with clients of different cultures. In this chapter, Hayes and colleagues define culture as referring to a group of people who share common history, values, beliefs, symbols, and rituals. The cultural groups to which one may belong include those based on: gender, religion, ethnicity, disability status, sexual orientation, race, and age, among others. Research suggests that culturally adapted therapy is more effective than unadapted therapy for racial minority clients. This may be due to more effective therapists being able to explain clients’ mental health problems and provide a rationale for specific therapy interventions that is congruent with the client’s beliefs. The most common model of multicultural therapy is multicultural competence, which is defined by having knowledge of various cultural groups, skills to navigate cultural processes, and self-awareness of personal bias. However, Hayes and colleagues argue for a multicultural orientation model in which a therapist is humble, respectful, and open to addressing culture in therapy. Whereas multicultural therapy is about acquiring knowledge, multicultural orientation refers to a way of being with clients. Hayes and colleagues review the research literature that indicates that therapists with cultural expertise are those who acknowledge when they do not have specific knowledge about a culture, have a high tolerance for not knowing, and at the same time recognize that cultural socialization affect clients’ mental health. A multicultural orientation is intended to bolster and support current therapeutic practices. For example, therapists may recognize that they need to better understand clients’ heritage when deciding whether or not to challenging a deeply held core belief related to the clients’ culture. In support of this, Hayes and colleagues review the research that indicates that: (1) client perception of therapist humility is related to client outcomes, especially for clients with a strong cultural identity; (2) clients who perceived that their therapist missed opportunities to discuss cultural issues in session had worse therapy outcomes; (3) clients who perceived therapists as culturally oriented experienced the therapy as more credible; and (4) therapist cultural comfort was related to better client outcomes.
The authors suggest that therapists ask open-ended questions to clients regarding their cultural identity, such as asking the role that religion and spirituality play in their lives. This would allow therapists to learn about client cultural identity in the client’s own words. It is particularly important for therapists to maintain a stance of humility and cultural comfort, and to attend to opportunities to work productively with cultural issues in therapy in order to improve their clients’ outcomes.
Does it Matter Which Therapist a Client Gets?
Barkham, M., Lutz, W., Lambert, M., & Saxon, D. (2017). Therapist effects, effective therapists, and the law of variability. In L.G. Castonguay and C.E. Hill (Eds.) How and why are some therapists better than others? Understanding therapist effects. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Psychotherapy research has often focused on the differences between treatment types (CBT, interpersonal psychotherapy, psychodynamic therapy), which has overshadowed research on what makes for an effective therapist. Psychotherapists represent the most costly important component of psychotherapy, and only recently has research begun to catch up to the importance of therapist effects. The term “therapist effects” refers to differences between therapists (i.e., variability) in their clients’ outcomes. In this chapter, Barkham and colleagues review some of the research on effective therapists. Best estimates of therapist effects suggest that differences between therapists account for about 8% of client outcomes – which is considered a medium effect and larger than the variance accounted for by the type of therapy that a client receives. Psychotherapy research often tries to control for therapist effects by training therapists to adhere to a manual, however adherence to a manual does not substantially reduce therapist effects, and adherence is not related to patient outcomes. The implication is that which therapist a client sees matters to the client’s mental health outcomes. The best research on the topic indicates that about 20% of therapists are substantially better than the average therapist, and 20% are substantially worse than the average. (The good news is that 60% of therapists [the average] are equally and positively effective). In that study of 119 therapists, the least effective therapists had about 40% of their clients recover, whereas the most effective therapists had about 76% of their clients recover. In other words, the better therapists were almost twice as effective as the worse therapists. In a re-examination of previous data, Barkham and colleagues looked at whether other variables, like client symptom severity, played a role in therapist effects. They found that differences among therapists was higher as client baseline severity increased. That is, the gap between better and worse therapists increased when client symptoms were more severe and complex. Good therapists were better equipped to handle more complex cases.
There are important differences between therapists in their effectiveness, and this makes a difference to clients. It is particularly important for clients with more severe symptoms to be matched with more effective therapists. Previous research indicates that the level of therapist interpersonal skills (alliance, empathy, warmth, emotional expression, verbal skills) can account for significant proportion of therapist effects, and so training therapists in these interpersonal skills will improve client outcomes. Also, therapists who receive continuous reliable feedback throughout therapy about their client’s symptom levels can also drastically reduce client drop-outs and the number of clients who get worse during treatment.
How Important are the Common Factors in Psychotherapy?
Wampold, B. E. (2015). How important are the common factors in psychotherapy? An update. World Psychiatry, 14, 270-277.
What is the evidence for the common factors in psychotherapy and how important are they to patient outcomes? In their landmark book, The Great Psychotherapy Debate, Wampold and Imel cover this ground is some detail, and I reviewed a number of the issues raised in their book in the PPRNet blog over the past year. This article by Wampold provides a condensed summary of the research evidence for the common factors in psychotherapy, including: therapeutic alliance, therapist empathy, client expectations, cultural adaptation of treatments, and therapist effects. Therapeutic alliance refers to therapist and client agreement on tasks and goals of therapy, and the bond between therapist and client. A meta-analysis of the therapeutic alliance included over 200 studies of 14,000 patients and found a medium effect of alliance on patient outcomes (d = .57) across a variety of disorders and therapeutic orientations. A number of studies are also concluding that the alliance consistently predicts good outcomes, but that early good outcomes do not consistently predict a subsequent higher alliance. Further, therapists and not patients were primarily responsible for the alliance-outcome relationship. Another common factor, empathy, is thought to be necessary for cooperation, goal sharing, and social interactions. A meta-analysis of therapist empathy that included 59 studies and over 3,500 patients found that the relationship between empathy and patient outcome was moderately large (d = .63). Patient expectations that they will receive benefit from a structured therapy that explains their symptoms can be quite powerful in increasing hope for relief. A meta-analysis of 46 studies found a small but statistically significant relationship (d = .24) between client expectations and outcome. Cultural adaptation of treatments refers to providing an explanation of the symptoms and treatment that are acceptable to the client in the context of their culture. A meta analysis of 21 studies found that cultural adaptation of evidence-based treatments by using an explanation congruent with the client’s culture was more effective than unadapted evidence-based treatments, and the effect was modest (d = .32). Finally, therapist effects, refers to some therapists consistently achieving better outcomes than other therapists regardless of the patients’ characteristics or treatments delivered. A meta analysis of 17 studies of therapist effects in naturalistic settings found a moderately large effect of therapist differences (d = .55).
These common factors of psychotherapy appear to be more important to patient outcomes than therapist adherence to a specific protocol and therapist competence in delivering the protocol. As Wampold argues, therapist competence should be redefined as the therapist’s ability to form stronger alliances across a variety of patients. Effective therapists tend to have certain qualities, including: a higher level of facilitative interpersonal skills, a tendency to express more professional self doubt, and they engage in more time outside of therapy practicing various psychotherapy skills.
What Therapists Can Do To Improve Their Patients’ Outcomes
Wampold, B.E. & Imel, Z.E. (2015). The great psychotherapy debate (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.
The Great Psychotherapy Debate: Starting in April, 2015 I review parts of The Great Psychotherapy Debate (Wampold & Imel, 2015) in the PPRNet Blog. This is the second edition of a landmark, and sometimes controversial, book that surveys the evidence for what makes psychotherapy work. You can view parts of the book in Google Books
In the concluding chapter of their book, Wampold and Imel discuss the evidence and strategies that therapists can use to improve patient outcomes. As indicated in previous PPRNet Blogs, Wampold and Imel concluded that the differences between specific treatment approaches is small. In other words, Wampold and Imel argue that there is no good evidence that one bona fide psychotherapy is more effective than another for most disorders. By “bona fide” treatments, they mean psychotherapy that: provides the client with a plausible theory/explanation of the disorder, delivers a structured intervention based on the plausible theory, and is offered by an effective therapist. The authors also found that contextual factors (e.g., therapeutic alliance, therapist empathy, client expectations) accounted for a sizeable proportion of patient outcomes. A key element in this understanding of effective therapy is the role of the therapist. The authors reviewed various studies and meta analyses that showed that therapists differ widely in their outcomes and in their ability to establish a therapeutic alliance. Unfortunately, therapists tend to be overly-optimistic about their clients’ outcomes. Therapists often do not have quality data on their clients’ progress, and the complexities of the therapeutic work makes it difficult for therapists to keep in mind all aspects of the therapy that is helpful or not helpful to clients. For example, some therapists may be good at establishing an alliance, but they may not be so good at providing a viable treatment structure. Other therapists may be highly empathic with clients who have moderately severe symptoms, but the same therapists may not respond as empathically with more difficult clients. Outcome or process monitoring (i.e., providing therapists with reliable information about the ongoing status of patient symptoms or about the quality of the therapeutic relationship) provides an evidence-based aid in helping therapists to improve their clients’ outcomes.
Regardless of the type of psychotherapy they use, therapists are responsible for achieving good outcomes for their clients. This includes continually developing therapeutic skills over time. There is some evidence that a reflective attitude towards one’s psychotherapy practice is helpful. Unfortunately, therapists may not be continually improving or reflecting on their practice. This is indicated by research showing that trainees and interns appear to be as competent as experienced clinicians. Therapists need quality information about their clients in order to improve their own practice and clients’ outcomes. But psychotherapy practice is complex, the therapeutic relationship is multifaceted, and clients are variable in their presenting issues and life experiences. All of these make it difficult for any therapist to make accurate decisions in therapy. Progress or process monitoring (i.e., continually measuring outcomes and relationship processes with a psychometrically valid instrument), may be one way for therapists to receive high quality feedback about patient progress in order to improve their psychotherapy practice.
Are Therapist Adherence and Competence to a Treatment Manual Related to Patient Outcomes?
The Great Psychotherapy Debate: Since in April, 2015 I review parts of The Great Psychotherapy Debate (Wampold & Imel, 2015) in the PPRNet Blog. This is the second edition of a landmark, and sometimes controversial, book that surveys the evidence for what makes psychotherapy work. You can view parts of the book in Google Books.
The conduct of psychotherapy trials almost always requires that therapists be adherent and competent in delivering a manualized therapy intervention. Treatment adherence usually refers to the extent to which a therapist used the intervention prescribed by a treatment manual. Therapist competence refers specifically to a therapist’s skill in delivering the therapy. So “competence” in the context of psychotherapy research typically refers only to performing a certain type of treatment. Wampold and Imel argue that these definitions are consistent with a Medical Model of psychotherapy that emphasizes delivering specific active ingredients of a treatment. The Contextual Model of psychotherapy, on the other hand might define a therapist as competent to the extent that the therapist is interpersonally skilled, empathic, and able to engage clients in the actions of the therapy. Wampold and Imel report on a meta analysis of 28 studies conducted by Webb and colleagues (2010) who found a small and non-significant relationship between therapist adherence and patient outcomes (r = .02), and a small and non-significant relationship between therapist competence and patient outcomes (r = .07). Type of treatment (e.g., CBT, IPT, dynamic) did not affect these associations – in other words adherence and competence were not more important to CBT than to other treatments. However, competence seemed to be more important for the treatment of depression (r = .28). Perhaps depression responds better to specific techniques. The finding that competence was generally not related to outcomes was surprising, however generally competence is narrowly defined as how well a therapist delivered the treatment not how well the therapist was able to establish a therapeutic context. Previous researchers concluded that when clients liked working with a therapist, clients got better, and therapists were rated as more competent as a result. A number of studies appear to indicate that therapist competence is really a function of the client’s characteristics not to what the therapist does. For example, clients with more severe personality problems could make a therapist appear less competent, and these clients may have poorer outcomes. If this is the case, it would create a paradoxical situation in which therapists’ appearance of competence (i.e., ability to deliver a manualized intervention well) is largely determined by the client and not by the therapist.
In contrast to the findings about adherence and competence, the therapeutic alliance is robustly related to patient outcomes. Also in contrast, the size of the alliance-outcome relationship is almost entirely due to the skills of the therapist, not the client’s characteristics. In other words, therapist competence is not a matter of whether they can do a good job of following a manual, but rather therapist competence is likely a matter of creating the right conditions (i.e., interpersonal skill, alliance, empathy, etc.) for delivering evidence-based interventions by which many clients improve. However, some therapists are better at these facilitative interpersonal skills than others.
Efficacy of Humanistic Psychotherapies
Angus, L., Watson, J.C., Elliott, R., Schneider, K., & Timulak, L. (2015) Humanistic psychotherapy research 1990–2015: From methodological innovation to evidence-supported treatment outcomes and beyond. Psychotherapy Research, 25, 330-347.
In this wide-ranging review, Angus and colleagues provide an overview of humanistic psychotherapy research from 1990-2015. For this blog I will focus on the efficacy research that they review. Humanistic psychotherapy addresses how people can come to know themselves and each other, and to fulfill their aspirations. This type of therapy emphasizes the personal, interpersonal, and contexts within which clients reflect on their relationships with the self, others, and the world. Carl Rogers is probably the best known early proponent of humanistic client centred psychotherapy. Humanistic psychotherapy focuses on a genuinely empathic therapeutic relationship to promote in-therapy client emotional experiencing, emphasizes meaning-making, and is person-centred. One of the questions raised by Angus and colleagues was: are humanistic psychotherapies efficacious. Here they mainly summarize a previous review by Elliot and colleagues (2013). In a meta analysis of 191 studies and over 14,000 clients, humanistic psychotherapies are associated with large pre to post therapy client change (g = .93) which are maintained over early (< 12 months) and late (> 12 months) follow ups. Further, in 31 studies of over 2,000 clients, those who received humanistic therapies show large gains compared to those who receive no treatment (g = .76). In 100 studies of over 6,000 clients, humanistic therapies had equivalent outcomes to other therapies (g = .01), including CBT (22 studies, g = -.06). Humanistic therapy was most effective for interpersonal/relational trauma, and depression (for which it is considered an evidence supported treatment). There is also good evidence for the efficacy of humanistic therapy for psychotic conditions. However, humanistic therapies may be less effective than CBT for anxiety problems.
Humanistic psychotherapy that focuses on a genuinely empathic therapeutic relationship that emphasizes client emotional experiencing and meaning-making is efficacious for a number of mental health problems. Rogers argued that non-judgemental acceptance, warmth, and congruence were necessary for good client outcomes, and an accumulating body of research is supporting these early propositions. The evidence for the importance of therapist empathy to improve client outcomes is particularly compelling.
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