Twomey, C., O’Reilly, G., & Goldfried, M. R. (2023, April 20). Consensus on the perceived presence of transtheoretical principles of change in routine psychotherapy practice: A survey of clinicians and researchers. Psychotherapy. Advance online publication. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pst0000489
Way back in 1982 Marvin Goldfried hypothesized that there were five transtheoretical principles of change that are part of every method of effective psychotherapies. However, for several decades since Goldfield’s hypothesis, the emphasis in training and research of psychotherapy has been on specific techniques and schools of psychotherapy. Despite the proliferation of therapy schools (there are now more than 500!), there is no evidence that any one bona fide therapeutic orientation is more effective than others, and patient outcomes over the decades have not improved. Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in transtheoretical principles of change that might move the science and practice psychotherapy forward. Goldfried’s five transtheoretical principles are those strategies common to all theoretical orientations of therapy that since then have received substantial research support. First, fostering the patient’s hope, positive expectations, and motivation has been associated with positive outcomes in psychotherapy. Second, facilitating the therapeutic alliance is associated with positive outcomes, and unresolved alliance ruptures are associated with negative outcomes. Third, increasing patients’ insight is moderately associated with treatment outcomes across orientations. Fourth, encouraging patients to engage in corrective experiences is consistent with the importance of gradual exposure to feared situations and feelings. And fifth, ongoing reality testing corresponds to the long-established finding that adaptive behaviors can be strengthened through repetition and reinforcement. In this large survey of 1198 psychotherapists and researchers, Twomey and colleagues were interested to see if there was a consensus among psychotherapists on these five principles. Consensus was defined as survey respondents indicating that they agreed or strongly agreed that each principle was present in their own approach to psychotherapy. Ninety-three percent of respondents practiced psychotherapy, their average age in years was 50, 51% were women, 62% were psychologists, and they represented a wide range of theoretical orientations. Strong consensus (i.e., on average they strongly agreed) was found for the first three principles: fostering patients’ hope and expectations, facilitating a therapeutic alliance, and increasing patients’ insight. Good consensus (i.e., on average they agreed) was found for encouraging patients to engage in corrective experiences, and ongoing reality testing. There were no differences or associations noted with any of the demographic variables (age, profession, years of practice) nor for theoretical orientation.
The results suggested that while some research continues to emphasize techniques specific to orientations of therapy, most clinicians agree on important principles of change that cut across orientations. These principles indicate that psychotherapists should (1) increase positive expectations by preparing patients for what will happen in therapy (duration, method, goals) and explaining why certain aspects of therapy are important, (2) foster the alliance by encouraging ongoing collaboration regarding the goals and methods of therapy, (3) encourage insight by collaboratively developing a case formulation that brings relevant issues into greater awareness for the patient, (4) provide patients with corrective experiences by encouraging exposure to difficult situations, interpersonal challenges, and working through alliance ruptures, and (5) help patients to be aware of and repeat corrective experiences over time as a means of fostering reality testing.