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 transtheoretical principles of change, microaggressions and outcomes, interpretations and outcomes.
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 Therapeutic Alliance Really That Important?
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 their chapter in the Handbook, Crits-Christoph and colleagues (2013) review research in which psychotherapy processes are related to patient outcomes. I reported in the July 2013 PPRNet Blog that therapeutic alliance is reliably correlated with treatment outcomes in a variety of disorders and treatment types. Alliance refers to an agreement on tasks and goals of therapy, and the bond between therapist and client. The common assumption is that alliance is a necessary condition that in part causes change in client symptoms. However therapeutic alliance studies tend to be correlational, that is, the studies show a relationship but the study designs do not allow one to say that alliance causes good outcomes. What if the opposite were true; what if early experiences of symptom reduction caused the therapeutic alliance to improve? If that were the case, then alliance would be an artificial and not particularly important aspect of psychotherapy. Crits-Christoph and colleagues (2013) review the literature on this topic. Some studies of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), for example, found that prior change in symptoms predicted later therapeutic alliance, but prior alliance did not predict later symptom change. In a more sophisticated study, Crits-Christoph and colleagues (2011) found that previous change in the alliance was related to later change in outcomes, but not vice versa. In the same study, the authors noted that measuring patient alliance at a single early session accounted for only 4.7% of the outcome variance at post treatment, whereas averaging assessments of alliance across 6 early sessions accounted for almost 15% of the outcome variance. In other words, averaging assessments across many sessions produced a more dependable measurement of alliance. Several studies now report a reciprocal relationship between alliance and outcome, indicating that change in alliance and change in outcomes across therapy sessions progress in a mutually reinforcing spiral. That is, early change in alliance causes subsequent change in outcome, which in turn results in further change in alliance, which precipitates more change in symptoms, etc. The review by Crits-Christoph and colleagues (2013) also noted that the importance of alliance seems to be greater for patients with a disorder like depression, compared to anxiety disorders.
Developing an early alliance with a client is related to treatment outcomes. Measuring alliance repeatedly (not just once) will give the best indicator of the state of the therapeutic relationship. Patients and therapists who have a genuine liking for each other, who agree on how therapy will be conducted and on the goals of therapy will improve the chances that psychotherapy will be successful. Alliance and symptom change may work together throughout therapy so that improvement in one will cause change in the other on an ongoing basis across therapy sessions. Alliance may be particularly important for patients with depressive disorders that are characterized by isolation from others, loneliness, and low self esteem.
Combining Medication and Psychotherapy in the Treatment of Depression
Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change: Starting in March 2013 I will review one chapter a month 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 can be viewed on Amazon.
Forand, N.R., DeRubeis, R.J., & Amsterdam, J.D. (2013). Combining medication and psychotherapy in the treatment of major mental disorders. In M.J. Lambert (Ed.) Bergin and Garfield’s handbook of psychotherapy and behaviour change (6th ed.), pp. 735-774. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.
This comprehensive chapter covers evidence for combining medication and psychotherapy for several disorders. This month I report on the section of the chapter on depression. Psychotherapy and antidepressant medications appear to have similar efficacy in short-term treatment trials, though psychotherapy has better outcomes than medication in the longer term. Psychotherapeutic treatments including Brief Dynamic Therapy (BDT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) confer enduring benefit by preventing relapse and recurrence when compared to discontinuing medication. Antidepressant medication is modestly effective during initial short-term treatments with remission rates less than 50% and long term recurrence range from 40% to 85%. Combining medication with psychotherapy provides a small to moderate short term advantage over monotherapy of medication or psychotherapy. Combining medication and psychotherapy is more useful for when considering chronicity rather than severity of depression. The results are consistent for BDT, IPT, and for CBT. In the longer term, efficacy of combined treatments is not better than either monotherapy. Taken together, the evidence for combined therapy for depression is modestly positive with little evidence that treatments interfere with each other (by contrast, see the March 2013 blog for findings of interference in combined therapy for anxiety disorders). Nevertheless, prolonged continuation of medication monotherapy is an added expense that is often ineffective. In fact, prolonged antidepressant medication maintenance can worsen the course of depressive illness for some, and efficacy tends to fade after 3 to 6 months of maintenance. Finally, there is emerging evidence of progressive tolerance (tachyphylaxis) or even worsening of symptoms during medication maintenance. Studies suggest that psychotherapy added to maintenance medication was associated with decreased relapse rates when compared to medication alone in the longer term.
Combined treatments (antidepressant medication plus psychotherapy) for major depression provide modest incremental improvements in response over monotherapy. Results of combination treatments are better, though still modest, for those with chronic depression. The evidence does not support the use of combined treatments for mild to moderate depression, unless the individual does not responds to initial monotherapy. Practitioners could consider monotherapy (i.e., psychotherapy or medication) first, followed by switching therapy or augmenting therapy for non-responders. If a patient is started on short term monotherapy of medication, practitioners may consider switching to psychotherapy for better long term relapse prevention.