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
Therapeutic Alliance Predicts Client Outcomes in CBT
Cameron, S. K., Rodgers, J., & Dagnan, D. (2018). The relationship between the therapeutic alliance and clinical outcomes in cognitive behaviour therapy for adults with depression: A meta‐analytic review. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, DOI: 10.1002/cpp.2180.
The therapeutic alliance refers to the collaborative agreement between therapist and client on the tasks of therapy (homework, treatment approach, intervention style) and goals of therapy (to reduce depressive symptoms, to improve interpersonal relationships, to cope better with stress), plus the emotional bond between therapist and client. The alliance is part of a larger concept of therapeutic relationship that also includes the real relationship between client and therapist and the transference relationship (maladaptive relational patterns in the client based on a history of relationships with parental figures). The alliance is thought to be a common factor across different therapeutic orientations, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), time-limited psychodynamic psychotherapy (TLPP), and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT). In fact, the alliance is known to have a moderate and robust relationship to client outcomes regardless of who rates the alliance (therapist, client, observer), which measure is used, and when in therapy the alliance is rated (early, middle, late). Although Beck emphasized the alliance as a key therapeutic principle in CBT, some CBT writers argue that the alliance is not so important. In this study, Cameron and colleagues conducted a meta analysis of 13 randomized controlled trials that assessed the relationship between therapeutic alliance and CBT outcomes for depression in adult clients. The overall mean correlation between therapeutic alliance and outcome was r = 0.26 (95% CI [.19–.32]), which indicates a moderate and significant relationship. This is very close to the value found in a larger meta analysis of over 200 alliance – outcome studies.
The study demonstrates the importance of the therapeutic alliance to client outcomes in CBT. The association was at similar levels to those found in other types of therapy. Therapists conducting CBT should attend to building and maintaining an alliance, which provides a context to facilitate CBT interventions. If a client is not completing homework for example, it is likely that there is a lack of agreement on tasks of therapy, and this part of the alliance may need to be renegotiated. Therapists may also benefit from routinely assessing the alliance in therapy with their clients on a session by session basis using short and easy to use measures. Reviewing these scales regularly can alert a therapist to potential problems in the alliance and the need to repair any tensions or ruptures.
Effects of Computerized CBT May be Overestimated
So, M., Yamaguchi, S., Hashimoto, S., Sado, M., Furukawa, T.A., & McCrone, P. (2013). Is computerised CBT really helpful for adult depression?-A meta-analytic re-evaluation of CCBT for adult depression in terms of clinical implementation and methodological validity. BMC Psychiatry, 13, 113.
Depression is a major cause of disability in the world, and so efforts to improve access to its treatment have been ongoing for several decades. In particular, many researchers and clinicians propose cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as an effective treatment with a good evidence-base. There have been many clinical trials showing the efficacy of CBT. In recent years, there have also been attempts to computerize CBT (CCBT) as a self help intervention in order to increase its accessibility for those with depression, and perhaps also to improve its cost effectiveness. In fact, the Increasing Accessibility to Psychotherapy (IAPT) program in the UK provides CCBT as the most common first treatment for depression. However there remain questions about the longer term effectiveness of CCBT to reduce symptoms of depression, its potentially high patient dropout rate (a negative outcome), and its effects on quality of life of those burdened by depression. In this meta analysis, the largest of its kind, So and colleagues assess these issues with regard to CCBT. They reviewed 14 direct comparison randomized controlled trials that provided 16 comparisons of CCBT versus a control condition (wait list or treatment as usual) for adults with depression. At post-treatment, CCBT was more effective than controls in reducing depression −0.48 [95% CI −0.63 to −0.33]. However, at follow up (up to 6 months), the effects of CCBT disappeared −0.05 [95% CI −0.19 to 0.09]. Also improvement in functioning and quality of life were not significantly different between CCBT and control conditions, −0.05 [95% CI −0.31 to 0.22]. The rate of drop out from CCBT (32%) was almost double that of control conditions (17%), RR = 1.68 [95% CI 1.31 to 2.16]. There was also evidence of publication bias (i.e., a tendency for some researchers not to publish non-significant findings), so that the positive post-treatment results in favour of CCBT might be inflated.
Although CCBT may be touted as a way to increase access to treatment for depression, this meta analysis indicates some concerns about the widespread implementation of CCBT. The effects of CCBT appear to be limited to a short-term reduction of depressive symptoms that may not be sustained in the longer run. There was no appreciable impact of CCBT on quality of life relative to controls, and so CCBT may have a limited impact on the burden of depression. Most troubling was a high drop out rate of 32%. Drop out from CCBT in the IAPT program in the UK is about 50%, and this may be indicative of the actual drop out rate in real world practice.
Psychotherapy for Depression Also Reduces Interpersonal Problems
McFarquhar, T., Luyten, P., & Fonagy, P. (2018). Changes in interpersonal problems in the psychotherapeutic treatment of depression as measured by the Inventory of Interpersonal Problems: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 226, 108-123.
Interpersonal problems are commonly reported by depressed people. Interpersonal problems are seen by many as both a cause of depressive symptoms and as a result of depression. Depression may be the result of lacking basic human needs like social supports, stable relationships, and intimacy. One of the most important ways of assessing interpersonal problems is with the Inventory of Interpersonal Problems (IIP). The IIP is based on a circumplex model of two independent dimensions: affiliation (friendliness vs hostility) and status (dominance vs submissiveness). Greater problems in any of these domains or any combination of these domains may lead to interpersonal distress that result in or are the result of depression. Many psychotherapies target interpersonal problems in their treatment of depression: Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), Short Term Dynamic Psychotherapy (STDP), and Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT). In this meta-analysis, McFarquhar and colleagues evaluated whether psychotherapy for depression is related to changes in interpersonal distress and whether specific types of interpersonal problems at baseline are related to treatment outcomes for depression at post-treatment. The authors looked at both randomized and non-randomized trials of psychotherapy for adults with depression. They found 10 studies that met inclusion criteria, six of which were randomized controlled trials. Psychotherapy for depression resulted large positive changes in interpersonal problems (overall pre- to post-treatment ES g=0.74, 95% CI=0.56–0.93). Unfortunately, there were too few studies (k = 3) that met meta-analytic criteria to do an analysis of pre-treatment interpersonal distress as a predictor of depression outcomes. However, of 8 studies that looked at this question, six showed that higher interpersonal distress was associated with poorer outcomes for depression at post-treatment.
Given that interpersonal problems both cause and are caused by depressive symptoms, targeting relationship difficulties (lack of social support, conflict in relationships, low intimacy, relationship avoidance) in psychotherapy should be a priority. This meta-analysis showed that interpersonal distress improves after psychotherapy for depression, and there was some evidence that higher interpersonal problems at the outset may reduce the effects of the therapy for depressive symptoms.
Interventions for PTSD for Survivors of Mass Violence
Morina, N., Malek, M., Nickerson, A., & Bryant, R.A. (2017). Meta-analysis of interventions for posttraumatic stress disorder and depression in adult survivors of mass violence in low- and middle-income countries. Depression and Anxiety, DOI: 10.1002/da.22618
There is a high prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in countries that have experienced civil war and mass violence, and given the number of open conflict, the prevalence is likely increasing. Most people affected are from low- to middle-income countries. Both PTSD and depression confer a large personal, social, health, and economic burden especially when untreated. Research in Western countries show that psychological treatment of PTSD is effective, but there are practical barriers to transporting and adapting these interventions to low- and middle-income countries. In this meta-analysis, Morina and colleagues do a systematic review of psychological interventions for PTSD conducted of adult survivors of war in low- and middle-income countries. Treatments included trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing and several others. In total, 2,124 treated participants and 934 participants in the waitlist condition were included in the analyses. In the 18 trials that were included, symptoms of PTSD and depression were measured. The average drop-out rate was 11.5%. Across all active interventions (k = 16), a large pre–post effect size was found, g = 1.29; 95% CI = [0.99; 1.59] for PTSD. The average between-group effect size comparing active treatments versus control conditions at post-treatment was small to medium, g = 0.39; 95% CI = [0.249; 0.55], and at follow-up was large, g = 0.93; 95% CI = [0.56; 1.31], k = 10. Pre-post effect size for depression was equally large g = 1.28; 95% CI = [0.96; 1.61]. The effect size comparing active treatments versus control conditions for depression at posttreatment (k = 11) was large, g = 0.86; 95% CI = [0.54; 1.18], and at follow-up was medium to large, g = 0.90; 95% CI = [0.49; 1.33], k = 5.
Evidence-based psychological treatments developed in high-income countries are also effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD and depression in adults who experienced war-time conditions in low- and middle-income countries. Although not directly tested, the evidence suggests that different evidence-based treatments were equally effective. Even if drop-out rates were low, practical barriers still existed, including the number of sessions of these treatments (average was 10 sessions), the need for trained personnel, and the need for face to face meetings. The authors suggested that collaborative care models should be evaluated and tested which aim to enhance the reach of efficacious treatments within primary care to optimize the number of patients who can benefit from these interventions.
Is Psychodynamic Therapy as Efficacious as Other Empirically Supported Treatments?
Steinert, C., Munder, T., Rabung, S., Hoyer, J., & Leichsenring, F. (2017). Psychodynamic therapy: As efficacious as other empirically supported treatments? A meta-analysis testing equivalence of outcomes. American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP In Advance)
Mental disorders are an important health concern that confer high levels of personal and economic burden. Up to 45% of primary care patients have at least one mental disorder. Many practice guidelines indicate that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT) , and specific pharmacotherapy interventions as empirically supported for common mental disorders. However, many psychotherapists practice psychodynamic therapy (PDT), and a number of reviews have provided evidence for the efficacy of short-term PDT compared to wait-lists, treatment as usual, and other forms of psychotherapy for depression and anxiety disorders. However, there also have been inconsistent findings with regard to the efficacy of PDT. A particularly strict test of efficacy of a therapy involves a comparison of the treatment to a rival intervention that has established efficacy. Such comparisons in which no differences are expected are referred to as equivalence trials. The problem is that no single study in psychotherapy so far is large enough to test for equivalence (technically, this refers to studies being statistically underpowered to detect a small effect), but a meta-analysis that combines samples from many studies can represent a large enough sample and be adequately powered. In this study, Steinert and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials in which PDT was compared to a treatment established in efficacy. Outcomes included target symptoms (anxiety, depression, etc.) measured with reliable instruments. The authors found 21 randomized controlled trials with 2,751 patients, and all of the comparisons included CBT. Based on predetermined accepted standards, the authors decided that an effect size of g = -0.25 to +0.25 would indicate equivalence (i.e., a small and clinically not meaningful difference). Post-treatment differences between PDT and comparison treatments was g = -0.153 (90%CI: -0.227 to -0.079), and similar results were found at follow-up. In other words there were small, non-significant, and clinically not meaningful differences between PDT and other established treatments with accepted efficacy. The studies were rated as high in quality, there was no effect of diagnosis on the results, and there was no evidence of publication bias.
This meta-analysis found PDT to be as efficacious as other treatments with established efficacy (i.e., CBT). The finding suggest that established practice guidelines may need to be revisited to include PDT. Response rates for anxiety disorders and depressive disorders (around 50%) for those receiving CBT, and even lower remission rates, indicate that there is room for improvement. Having other treatment options may be particularly important for patients who do not respond to one form of therapy and who may need to be switched to another type of intervention.
Are the Effects of Psychotherapy Inflated?
Driessen, E., Hollon, S.D., Bockting, C.L.H., Cuijpers, P., Turner, E.H. (2015). Does publication bias inflate the apparent efficacy of psychological treatment for major depressive disorder? A systematic review and meta-analysis of US National Institutes of Health-funded trials. PLoS ONE 10(9): e0137864. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0137864.
In 2008 Turner published a well-known study in which he found that almost 50% of antidepressant trials registered with the Food and Drug Administration in the US were never published or were positively “spun” (i.e., essentially negative findings were interpreted to be positive). Almost all of the unpublished trials showed unfavorable results for the antidepressants’ effects. By contrast, the published studies were almost always were positive. This is evidence of publication bias caused by selective publication of some data and suppression of other data. As you can imagine, this has important implications for treatment of depression as the published record appeared to over-inflate effects of antidepressants by 25% (the mean effect size decreased from g = .41 [CI95% 0.36~0.45] to 0.31 [0.27~0.35] when unpublished studies were included). Has the same type of publication bias occurred in the published record of psychotherapy’s efficacy? In this study by Driessen and colleagues, the authors reviewed all psychotherapy studies for depression funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health in the US between 1972 and 2008. They wanted to determine which ones were published, which were never published, and what the impact of nonpublication was on the mean effect size. Of the 55 grants that were funded, 13 (26.3%) were never published, and the authors were able to obtain data from 11 of those unpublished studies. The overall mean effect size (psychological treatment versus a control condition) of unpublished studies was g = 0.20 (CI95% -0.11~0.51) indicating a small non-significant effect. The overall mean effect size for published studies was g = 0.52 (CI95% 0.37~0.68) indicating a medium significant effect. Adding the unpublished studies to published studies resulted in a 25% decrease in effect size estimate to g = 0.39 (0.08~0.70), indicating a small but significant effect of psychotherapy.
This study indicated that psychotherapy is effective but that the effects are likely smaller than indicated in the published record. As in the case of antidepressant medication research, a minority of researchers may not publish findings that are not in line with their preconceived expectations or wished-for results. Regardless, there is certainly room for psychotherapy to improve. After decades of focusing largely on the efficacy of specific psychotherapies like CBT, psychodynamic therapies, and interpersonal therapy, perhaps it is time to shift to studying how and why therapies work, and which patients benefit from specific interventions. There are promising avenues such as research on: repairing therapeutic alliance tensions, enhancing therapist expertise, progress monitoring and feedback, client factors, and managing countertransference.