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
Emotional Experiences of Psychotherapists
Chui, H., & Liu, F. (2021). Emotional experience of psychotherapists: A latent profile analysis. Psychotherapy, 58(3), 401–413.
Working with client emotional experiences in therapy is a core aspect of the psychotherapist’s work, regardless of their theoretical orientation. And so, therapists’ performance and their own well-being may be impacted by their capacity to experience and regulate their own emotions. Emotional reactivity refers to one’s sensitivity, intensity, and duration of emotional experience. Emotion regulation refers to the capacity to manage and express emotions and may be considered an interpersonal competency for therapists. Such competency likely involves flexible expression of emotion and a capacity for empathy. A better understanding of how therapists experience emotions might inform therapists’ use of empathy to facilitate their work with clients. In this study, Chui and Liu surveyed 314 English speaking and 589 Chinese speaking psychotherapists and asked them about their experiences of emotional reactivity, their emotion regulation, and empathy. Their data allowed them to develop profiles of psychotherapists along dimensions of emotional experience. Three latent profiles emerged in both the English and Chinese speaking samples of therapists. The highest proportion of English-speaking therapists (58%) were categorized as “Calm Regulators”, which indicated therapists with low emotional reactivity and few problems with emotion regulation. Next, 34.4% of English-speaking therapists were characterized as “Moderate Experiencers”, and 7.6% were “Emotional Feelers”. The latter profile included therapists who were emotionally over-reactive and who had greatest difficulty with regulating their emotions. As one might expect, those with the Calm Regulator profile had higher capacity for perspective taking, higher empathic concern, and lower personal distress than therapists in the other profiles. Also, therapists who were older, with more education, female, and with a psychodynamic orientation were more likely to have the Calm Regulator profile. Results were remarkably similar in the Chinese speaking sample, in which Calm Regulators also reported higher levels of counsellor self-efficacy.
Therapists with the “Emotional Feelers” profile (i.e., that have higher levels of emotional reactivity and more difficulty regulating their emotions) may be at higher risk of burnout and of being less effective in their work. As a profession we often discuss clients’ individual differences in emotional experience and emotion regulation, but we spend less time considering these important interpersonal competencies in therapists. Recent surveys suggest that almost 50% of therapists may be at high risk of mental health problems. Psychotherapists, trainers, and supervisors need to pay more attention to therapists’ capacity to regulate their emotions, and its impact on their capacity to be emotionally flexible and empathic with clients. Therapists might consider personal therapy as a means of building this capacity.
Therapists are Not Equally Effective Across Sexual Orientations
Drinane, J. M., Roberts, T., Winderman, K., Freeman, V. F., & Wang, Y.-W. (2021, October 14). The myth of the safe space: Sexual orientation disparities in therapist effectiveness. Journal of Counselling Psychology. Advance online publication.
In general, differences between therapists account for 5% to 10% of the variance in client treatment outcomes. Some of these differences can be accounted for by therapists’ capacity to adjust to or to work with diverse client characteristics. For example, certain therapists more effectively espouse cultural humility and pursue opportunities for cultural conversations than other therapists, and this likely affects client outcomes. Most of the research on therapist effects related to diversity has focused on race/ethnicity. Very few studies to date have looked at therapist differences regarding sexual minority statuses. Therapists can engage in unhelpful practices including microaggressions toward sexual minority patients. Microaggressions can be unintended or subtle expressions of prejudice that are harmful to the recipient. Microaggressions that sexual minority patients experience may include communicating that one’s sexual orientation is a cause of distress, minimizing the importance of sexual orientation identity, and over-identification with LGBTQ clients. Further, patients with sexual minority statuses are at increased risk for adverse mental health outcomes possibly caused by the experience of minority stress related to stigma, prejudice, and discrimination. In this study, Drinane and colleagues a sample of 1,725 clients treated by 50 therapists in a university counselling center. About 17.7% of the client sample endorsed a sexual minority status. An unexpected finding was that sexual minority clients did not have worse mental outcomes than heterosexual clients. However, therapists varied in the extent to which their clients improved and how that improvement varied by sexual orientation status. Some therapists had queer clients who experienced more change than their heterosexual clients, whereas other therapists had heterosexual clients who experienced more change than their queer clients.
The findings of this study indicate that therapists influence their clients outcomes differently based on the clients’ sexual orientation identity. Those therapists whose queer clients had worse outcomes than their heterosexual clients may be inadvertently engaging in microaggressions. Professional development that focuses on increasing the ability to consider sexual minority client experiences may lead psychotherapists to respond to sexual minority clients without prejudice. Therapists should consider how their own values shape their behaviors and interventions across client populations.
Jackson, D., Farber, B.A., & Mandavia, A. (2021): The nature, motives, and perceived consequences of therapist dishonesty. Psychotherapy Research, DOI: 10.1080/10503307.2021.1933241
There is very little research or writing about therapist dishonesty with clients. Psychotherapy relies on clients to be honest to establish a therapeutic alliance – but what about therapists? Honesty is different from therapist self-disclosure. Self-disclosure refers to private information that therapists may or may not choose to share about themselves. Dishonesty, on the other hand are words or behaviors that are meant to deceive or mislead. Dishonesty can be covert (implying something that was not completely true) or overt (deliberately providing misleading information). Therapists might justify dishonesty as being carried out to protect their clients from harmful information, although some lying might be done by therapists to protect their own self esteem. In this survey of over 400 psychotherapists, Jackson and colleagues examined the topics, frequency, and some reasons why therapists were dishonest with clients. The therapists who responded to the survey had similar demographics to those practicing in the United States. They were on average 46.25 (SD = 15.59) years old, female (72.8%), mostly White (83.3%), working in private practice (62.6%), with an average of 16.48 (SD = 12.66) years of experience, and working from a range of theoretical orientations. The top reasons for therapist covert dishonesty included lying about feeling emotionally or physically unwell, feeling frustrated or bored with the client, or liking the client. The top reasons for therapist overt dishonesty included lying about feeling emotionally unwell, not remembering something a client said in a previous session, appointment availability, not having had conversations about the client with others, and not paying attention during a session. Over 91% of therapists indicated that they at least once gave the impression of paying attention when they were not, 88% implied they were not available for a session when they were, over 85% gave the impression that a client was making progress when they were not, 84% indicated they gave the false impression about a reason for being late to a session, and 65% at least once explicitly told a client something untrue about their own mental health history. Less than 1% of therapists reported that they were never dishonest with a client. Despite almost all therapists reporting being dishonest on occasion, therapist dishonesty tends to be relatively infrequent.
Most of the time, if a therapist is dishonest with a client it is motivated by the consideration of a client’s best interest. On the one hand, therapists should be tactful by keeping in mind the needs and wellbeing of each client when considering what to disclose. However, research on therapist self-disclosure indicates that clients are more likely to disclose information if the therapist is honest about themselves. And some clinical writers suggest that therapists’ attempts to conceal negative feelings is an unproductive strategy that steers therapists and clients away from difficult conversations that might deepen the therapeutic relationship. As a general principle, therapists must consider whether the covert or overt dishonesty is truly in the service of the client or whether it is to protect the therapist’s self-esteem by not acknowledging their own missteps or limitations.
Psychotherapies are Less Effective for Black Youth Who Live in Communities with Higher Anti-Black Racism.
Price, M.A., Weisz, J.R., McKetta, S., Hollinsaid, N.L., Lattanner, M.R., Reid, A.E., Hatzenbuehler, M.L. (2021). Meta-analysis: Are psychotherapies less effective for Black youth in communities with higher levels of anti-Black racism? Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Racism is a system in which racial groups are ranked, devalued, and provided limited opportunities and resources. Individual racism refers to how individuals of stigmatized groups respond to racism (self-devaluation, hopelessness), interpersonal racism refers to how people discriminate or mistreat others based on race, and structural or cultural racism refers to collective beliefs regarding racial groups that become enacted by larger social systems and institutions. Historically, health research on the negative effects of racism has focused on interpersonal racism. More recently, research has studied the association between structural or cultural racism and adverse health outcomes. Few studies have examined the effects of cultural racism on mental health outcomes especially among Black youth. In this meta-analysis, Price and colleagues identified 194 studies across 34 US states. They measured anti-Black cultural racism by analyzing publicly available surveys that tapped into racism. The authors statistically aggregated the scores for each US state thus providing a cultural racism score for each state. The authors categorized the 194 studies according to the composition of race of its participants, such that studies had either majority-White samples (k = 158) or majority-Black samples (k = 36). To examine the independent effect of state-level cultural racism, the authors also controlled for several confounding variables in their analyses (state-level White or Black population density, state poverty rate). Higher anti-Black racism at the state level was associated with lower effects of psychotherapy in studies in which most of the youth were Black (β = -0.20, 95% CI: -0.35, -0.04, p = .02). However, the effect of cultural racism was unrelated to the effects of psychotherapy in studies in which most of the youth were White (β = 0.0004, 95% CI: -0.03, 0.03, p = .98). The standardized effect sizes in states with the highest anti-Black racism (g = 0.19) were significantly lower than in states with the lowest racism (g = .60). A concerning finding was that the differences between low and high racism states widened at follow-up, indicating that cultural racism eroded some of the gains made by Black youth in high racism states.
Researchers have long known the negative health disparities related to racism, but this is the first study to evaluate the effects of cultural racism on the effects of psychotherapy. This meta-analysis indicates that anti-Black cultural racism reduced psychotherapy effectiveness for Black youth, and some gains tended to decline at follow up. Psychotherapists should consider modifying their treatments for Black youth to derive most benefit and to adopt a multicultural orientation. Nevertheless, stigma and racism have negative effects at multiple levels that require structural and community interventions to target racism at its source.
Can Therapists Identify Racial Microaggressions?
Owen, J., Drinane, J. M., Tao, K. W., DasGupta, D. R., Zhang, Y. S. D., & Adelson, J. (2018). An experimental test of microaggression detection in psychotherapy: Therapist multicultural orientation. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 49(1), 9–21.
Microaggressions are covert or subtle expressions of racist actions that include micro-insults (pathologizing cultural values), micro-invalidations (assuming that patients from a racial-ethnic minority [REM] are too sensitive about race), and micro-assaults (blatant racism not in the presence of someone of that race). Previous research showed that 53% to 81% of patients from a REM experienced at least one microaggression from their therapist. Most commonly therapists might minimize cultural issues or subtly express a racial stereotype. Those same studies found that microaggressions were related to worse therapeutic alliance and patient outcomes. Microaggressions are a form of therapeutic alliance rupture that is common in psychotherapy. Of the patients who experienced a microaggression, only 24% indicated that the microaggression was addressed by the therapist. However almost all of those for whom the microaggression was addressed felt that the microaggression was resolved. For therapists to resolve a rupture caused by a microaggression, they first must identify a microaggression. In this study, Owen and colleagues recruited 68 psychotherapists (mostly White women of about 30 years of age) and divided them into two groups. One group viewed a simulated therapy video with three types of microaggressions committed by the therapist. The other group saw a video of a therapy session in which there were no microaggressions. In both videos the therapist was a White woman in her late 30s and the patient was a Hispanic man in his late 20s. Therapist participants who viewed the microaggression video reported significantly more insensitive comments by the therapist in the video than those who viewed the neutral video. However, only 38% to 51% of therapist participants identified a microaggression in the video, and less than 25% identified 2 or 3 microaggressions that occurred.
The study suggests that therapists can identify when a session includes culturally insensitive interactions. However, therapists were not able to identify almost half of microaggressions when they occurred. This in part may explain why microaggressions often go undetected and unrepaired. The authors admitted that we know very little about what goes on for therapists in these moments – are they anxious about what happened, are they unsure of how to repair the microaggression? The results of this and other studies indicate that therapists should take on a multicultural orientation that includes cultural humility (curiosity and a non-superior approach), responding to cultural opportunities (explore when cultural content is presented), and cultural comfort (ease and calmness related to another’s culture and race).
Mindfulness-Based Interventions Among People of Color
Sun, S., Goldberg, S.B., Loucks, E.B., & Brewer, J.A. (2021). Mindfulness-based interventions among people of color: A systematic review and meta-analysis, Psychotherapy Research, DOI: 10.1080/10503307.2021.1937369.
In the United States, people of color (POC) are disproportionately affected by structural inequalities related to racism such as high rates of incarceration, poor housing, and economic difficulties. Racial disparities also exist in health care such that POC are less likely to use health services thus resulting in more persistent health problems. Research has shown that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) may be effective in improving health outcomes of conditions that are prevalent among POC like psychiatric symptoms and cardiovascular disease. Some argue that MBIs are especially culturally relevant to POC because of the focus on overall well-being, the emphasis on resilience, and communally delivered formats. In this meta-analysis, Sun and colleagues systematically reviewed 24 randomized controlled trials with a total of over 2000 participants in which MBI was compared to no treatment or to an active control (a control group that was meant to be therapeutic). Only trials in which the study sample was predominantly (>75%) POC were included. At post-treatment, MBIs showed small but statistically significant outcomes compared to active controls (k = 16, g = 0.11, 95% CI = [0.04, 0.18], p = .002) and to no treatment (k=8, g = 0.26, 95%CI = [0.07, 0.45], p = .007). These are smaller effects than reported in other populations. Drop-out rates for POC receiving MBI was about 22%, which is similar to what is reported in the general psychotherapy outcome literature.
The results suggest a modest effect of MBI for POC, and that the effects may be smaller than reported in studies with other populations. Only two of the studies reported culturally adapting MBI for POC. Psychotherapists might consider cultural adaptation of MBI or providing MBI from a multi-cultural orientation framework that includes therapists’ cultural humility, making the best of cultural opportunities in therapy, and developing cultural comfort and competence.