Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change: Starting in March 2013 I will review one chapter a month from the Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change in addition to reviewing psychotherapy research articles. Book chapters have more restrictive copy right rules than journal articles, so I will not provide author email addresses for these chapters. If you are interested, the Handbook table of content and sections of the book can be read on Google Books.
Crits-Christoph, P., Connolly Gibbons, M.B., & Mukherjee, D. (2013). Psychotherapy process-outcome research. In M.E. Lambert (Ed.), Bergin and Garfield’s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, 6th Edition (pp. 298-340). New York: Wiley.
In this section of their chapter in the Handbook, Crits-Christoph and colleagues (2013) review research on: (1) specific techniques of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and (2) change mechanisms of CBT for depression. Research on techniques and mechanisms of change tests the specific or unique effects of a treatment and the rationale for its use. The first issue addresses whether therapist adherence and competence in using CBT techniques produce desired outcomes in patients. CBT techniques include: following an agenda, reviewing homework, asking about specific beliefs, practicing rational responses with patients, and asking patients to keep thought records. Crits-Christoph and colleagues (2013) report that the research findings on the association between using specific CBT techniques and depression outcomes are mixed. The strongest evidence is for concrete techniques such as setting agendas, reviewing homework, and practicing rational responses. However the number of studies that control for prior symptom change and other factors like therapeutic alliance is small, and so the evidence for the specific effects of CBT techniques remains meagre. The second issue addresses whether targeting depressogenic cognitions with CBT results in positive outcomes. Generally, CBT theory argues that the mechanisms by which CBT works is to focus on core depressogenic schemas (i.e., less consciously long held negative beliefs about the self), conscious negative automatic thoughts, and dysfunctional attitudes (i.e., patterns of automatic thoughts) that lead to or maintain depression. Theoretically, addressing these cognitions in CBT should reduce depressive symptoms. Overall, the research shows that both CBT and medication treatment for depression reduce self-reported negative thinking; that is, the effects on negative thinking were not specific to CBT. Few studies show that changes in cognitions precede changes in depressive symptoms, which is a key CBT tenet. The most promising findings suggest that learning compensatory skills (i.e., finding alternative explanations for negative events and thoughts, and problems solving) may be part of the mechanism by which CBT works, but again this mechanism may not be specific to CBT.
CBT is an effective treatment for depression. CBT theory suggests that the reason for its effectiveness is the use of specific techniques (i.e., reviewing homework, asking for specific beliefs, practicing rational responses with patients, and asking patients to keep thought records) that target the purported causes of depression (i.e., depressogenic shemas, negative thoughts, and dysfunctional attitudes). Currently there is little research evidence that supports the specificity of CBT techniques or that supports the notion that specific changes in cognitions as a result of CBT reduce depression. Nevertheless, in general, concrete techniques (i.e., setting agendas, reviewing homework, and practicing rational responses) are clinically useful for depressed patients, as is learning compensatory skills like problem solving.