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 CBT, negative effects of psychological interventions, and what people want from therapy.
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
The Personal Self of Psychotherapists
Orlinsky, D.E., Ronnestad, M.H., Hartmann, A., Heinonen, E., & Willutzki, U. (2019). The personal self of psychotherapists: Dimensions, correlates, and relations with patients. Journal of Clinical Psychology. Online first: DOI: 10.1002/jclp.22876
What role does the psychotherapist’s personal self play in determining their interpersonal stances with patients? It is an intriguing question about the intersection between the personal self and the professional self of psychotherapists. Are we different in our personal lives compared to our professional lives? In this large survey of over 10,000 psychotherapists from Europe and North America, Orlinsky and colleagues examine the convergence of the personal and professional self of psychotherapists. The personal self was defined as therapists’ view of the self when engaging in personal relationships. This can include behaviors in close relationships, and also one’s temperament defined as innate sensitivities or proclivities in relationships. Previous research indicated that when relationships are satisfying, life typically feels rich and meaningful – but if personal relationships are limited or non-existent, life can feel empty and meaningless. The survey asked therapists a number of questions, including about how they describe themselves in close personal relationships, what their general proclivities are around affect expression, cognitive style, and expectations of relationships, and how they rated their life satisfaction. Half of the sample of psychotherapists were psychologists, and there was also a large representation of psychiatrists, counsellors, and social workers. Major theoretical orientations were represented (psychodynamic, CBT, humanistic), and therapists came from a number of countries mainly in Europe and North America. Most psychotherapists identified themselves as caring (friendly and warm: 85%) in close relationships, but some also reported being more forceful (authoritative: 37%) and reclusive (guarded: 27.6%). In terms of temperament most therapists were optimistic and intuitive (84% each), but some also indicated more pragmatic (72%) or skeptical (25%). Therapists who more caring and expressive also reported higher levels of personal life satisfaction. In general, therapists who were more caring in their personal relationships reported being more affirming with patients (r = .52), those who were more forceful in personal relationships tended to be more directive with patients (r = .48), and those who were more reclusive in personal relationships were more reserved with patients (r = .20).
Not surprisingly, most therapists saw themselves as warm, affiliative, optimistic, and receptive in personal relationships. But, many therapists (35%) also described themselves in negative terms (reserved, guarded, skeptical) in close relationship. Although psychotherapists may see their personal relationships and their professional relationships as independent, this large multinational survey indicates otherwise. Personal relationship style and temperament has a moderate to large association with professional interpersonal style with patients. This may indicate that therapists generally are genuine (consistent with themselves) in their relationship with patients. But other therapists may have to reign in more negative aspects of their selves and social behaviors in order to be empathic and caring towards patients.
Therapeutic Relationship and Therapist Responsiveness in the Treatment of PTSD
Norcross, J. C., & Wampold, B. E. (2019). Relationships and responsiveness in the psychological treatment of trauma: The tragedy of the APA Clinical Practice Guideline. Psychotherapy, 56(3), 391-399.
The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Clinical Practice Guideline for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Adults published in 2017 was met with a great deal of concern and criticism by the community of scholars and practitioners working with patients with PTSD. A key concern was that the APA used a biomedical model and not a psychological or contextual model in guiding their understanding of PTSD, their approach to what constitutes evidence, and to decisions about recommended treatments. In particular, the biomedical approach focuses almost exclusively on treatment methods, and down-plays the context of treatment (i.e., the relationship, patient factors, and therapist responsiveness). In this critique, Norcross and Wampold highlight the flaws in the APA Clinical Practice Guideline for PTSD, and the authors focus specifically on those variables that are known to predict patient outcomes but that were ignored by the Guideline. Norcross and Wampold highlighted that there exists numerous meta analyses that demonstrate that all bona fide psychotherapies work about equally well for trauma, and that the particular treatment method has little impact on PTSD outcomes. Yet, the restrictive review process undertaken by APA all but ignored this well-established finding. Also ignored was the research on the importance of the therapeutic relationship in the treatment of trauma. One review outlined nineteen studies that found that the therapeutic alliance was associated with or predicted reduction in PTSD symptoms. This is consistent with the general psychotherapy research literature, in which the alliance is the most researched and most reliable factor related to patient outcomes. Also missing from the PTSD Guideline was reference to a large body of research on therapist responsiveness to patient characteristics. Patients are more likely to improve if their therapists can adapt to the patient’s coping style, culture, preferences, level of resistance, and stage of change. In one study of cognitive-processing therapy (CPT; a treatment recommended by the APA Guideline), there were substantial differences between therapists in their patient’s PTSD symptom outcomes. That is, some therapists reliably were more effective than others, even though all therapists were trained in and supervised in providing the same manualized evidence-based treatment. Among the identified skills of the most effective CPT therapists were: a flexible interpersonal style, and an ability to develop and maintain a good therapeutic alliance across patients.
There is growing consensus that the APA Clinical Practice Guideline for PTSD are based on dubious methodology and are of limited use to therapists and their patients with PTSD. Psychotherapists should practice a bona-fide therapy for PTSD, but should do so by taking into account the treatment context. In other words, more effective therapists are good at developing, maintaining, and repairing the therapeutic alliance across a range of patients. Effective therapists can also respond and adapt to patient characteristics such as level of resistance, coping style, culture, and stage of change. And so, even when providing a treatment based on the APA Guideline, therapists should nurture trust in the therapeutic relationship and be adaptive to their patients’ characteristics.
Therapists Differ in Their Effectiveness with Racial/Ethnic Minority Clients
Hayes, J. A., Owen, J., & Bieschke, K. J. (2015). Therapist differences in symptom change with racial/ethnic minority clients. Psychotherapy, 52(3), 308-314.
There is ample research showing that therapists differ in their outcomes with clients. Some therapists consistently have better outcomes than others, and some therapists consistently have worse outcomes. One study estimated that as many as 5% of therapists are reliably harmful, with many more being neither harmful or helpful. Fortunately, there is evidence that some “super-shrink” therapists are reliably helpful. There is also research showing the existence of ethnic disparities in mental health problems and their treatment. The minority stress theory suggests that members of cultural minority groups face problems like discrimination, oppression, and prejudice that affect their mental health. When racial/ethnic minority (REM) individuals do experience mental health problems they may be reluctant to seek help from a therapist of European descent. This may be due to cultural mistrust or doubts about cultural sensitivity. Recently, writers have been discussing the importance of therapist cultural competence in treating REM clients. In this study by Hayes and colleagues, the authors looked at 36 therapists and 228 clients. Clients were students at a university counselling centre seen an average of 5.42 times, and about 65% of clients were of European descent. The therapists were in training in a doctoral counseling program, and they each treated at least 4 clients: two REM and two non-REM clients. Since each therapist had both REM and non-REM clients, the authors were able to estimate the effect of the therapist on client outcomes, and also to see if therapists differed in their ability to treat REM and non-REM clients. In this study, cultural competence was defined as differences in client outcomes within each therapist depending on client culture or race. Overall, about 39% of clients achieved reliable positive change in general symptom distress. Almost 9% of the variance in client outcome was attributable to therapists. Further, the client’s race/ethnicity explained 19% of the variance in treatment outcome attributed to therapists. In other words, which therapist a client saw had moderate impact on whether the client improved, and this was partly due to the client’s REM status.
In this sample of training therapists and student clients, some therapists were more effective than others, and some of this difference was due to the client’s racial/ethnic heritage. The results suggest that therapists’ cultural competence is a component of overall competence. The findings speak to the need for multicultural training for therapists. Some authors discuss the importance of cultural humility among psychotherapists, which is an interpersonal stance that is other-oriented rather than self-focused, and characterized by respect and lack of superiority toward a client’s cultural background and experience. Client perception of their therapist as culturally humble will improve the therapeutic alliance and the client’s outcomes.
Author email: email@example.com
Client Preferences Affect Psychotherapy Outcomes
Swift, J. K., Callahan, J. L., Cooper, M., & Parkin, S. R. (2018). The impact of accommodating client preference in psychotherapy: A meta‐analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 74(11), 1924-1937.
Here is another in a series of meta analyses looking at client factors that predict psychotherapy outcomes. In 2006 the American Psychological Association defined evidence-based practice in psychology as composed of 3 pillars: (1) the integration of the best available research combined with (2) clinical expertise in the context of (3) client characteristics including client preferences. Client preferences can be grouped into three broad categories. First, activity preferences refer to activities that a client hopes they and their therapists will engage in during treatment. For example, some clients may prefer homework between sessions, or therapists who interpret, or may prefer a type of therapy modality like group, couple, or individual treatment. Second, treatment preferences include client’s wishes for certain types of therapy approach like CBT, psychodynamic, interpersonal psychotherapy, peer-support, or others. Third, therapist preferences include a client’s desire for the type of therapist with which they would like to work. This might include preferences based on demographics, therapist personality, interpersonal style, culture, and so on. Studies that measure the impact of clients receiving their preferences may simply ask clients what they prefer, or might use a questionnaire of preferences. Some research found that clients are willing to give-up up to 40% in the treatment’s efficacy in order to ensure that they worked with a therapist with whom they would have a good relationship. In this meta-analysis, Swift and colleagues reviewed 53 studies that examined the association between client preferences and psychotherapy outcomes. In 28 studies that included data from 3,237 clients, the overall effect of client preference on psychotherapy drop out was statistically significant, such that clients who were not matched or not given a choice of treatment preference were 1.79 times more likely to drop out compared to those who did get their preference (95% CI: 1.44, 2.22; p < .001). In 53 studies of over 16,000 clients, the overall effect of clients receiving their preference on outcomes was also statistically significant (d = 0.28, 95% CI [0.17, 0.38], p < .001). Receiving a preferred treatment or therapist was associated with better client outcomes.
The results of this body of research suggests that therapists will do well to attempt to accommodate client preferences in psychotherapy, unless they are impractical, or therapeutically or ethically counter-indicated. One can ask clients about their preferences for activities of therapy, therapist style and characteristics, and treatment type. Some of these decisions may require clients to be educated about their options, and so agencies may consider adopting decision aids. At the very least therapists should initiate a discussion with clients about what the client wants and what they can reasonably expect to receive. These discussions may occur at the beginning of treatment and revisited part way through as well. Therapists may also consider using more structured valid assessments of client preferences to help with this task.
Author email: Joshua.Keith.Swift@gmail.com
Early Maladaptive Schemas and Coping Make Psychotherapists Vulnerable to Burnout
Simpson, S., Simionato, G., Smout, M., van Vresswijk, M.F., Hayes, C., Sougleris, C., & Reid, C. (2018). Burnout amongst clinical and counselling psychologist: The role of early maladaptive schemas and coping modes as vulnerability factors. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Online first DOI: 10.1002/cpp.2328.
Burnout in health professionals has become a global problem, with between 21% and 67% of mental health professionals reporting high levels. Researchers define burnout as including three components: emotional exhaustion (feeling emotionally exhausted from the work), depersonalization (feeling disconnected from patients), and reduced personal accomplishment in one’s work. Burnout is related to reduced capacity to perform professionally and to provide adequate care to patients. Much of the research has focused on institutional and workload factors as causes of burnout in health professionals. However, interpersonal factors like therapists’ early maladaptive schemas and coping mechanisms may also increase vulnerability to burnout. Early maladaptive schemas are self-defeating core beliefs and patterns that are repeated throughout one’s life and that have their origin in early life experiences. Maladaptive coping are thoughts and behaviors that one repeatedly engages in an unconscious or automatic way to minimize the activation of early maladaptive schemas. Maladaptive coping might include detachment, self-aggrandizement, attacking others, or over-compliance. In this study, Simpson and colleagues surveyed 443 clinical or counseling psychologists in Australia to assess if in fact early maladaptive schemas and maladaptive coping predicted burnout over and above job demands like workload. The mean age of the psychologists was 42.93 years (SD = 11.53), most were women (80.4%), who were married (52.8%), had attained a Masters degree (45.6%), and worked either in outpatient mental health centres (39.7%) or in private practice (33%). Most of the therapists (67%) indicated that over 50% of their client work involved trauma. Of the sample, 49.7% indicated at least a moderately high level of burnout on a standardized questionnaire, with emotional exhaustion as the highest type of burnout. The most common early maladaptive schemas among the psychologists were unrelenting standards and self-sacrifice. Detached coping was the most common coping mode. In terms of predicting burnout, job demands accounted for 10% of the variance in burnout, early maladaptive schemas accounted for an additional 18% of the variance in burnout over and above job demands, and maladaptive coping accounted for an additional 6% beyond maladaptive schemas and job demands.
Work – life balance, managing clients with chronic and complex issues, and working with clients who experienced trauma can cause distress in mental health providers. Psychologists’ early maladaptive schemas like unrelenting standards and self-sacrifice in addition to maladaptive detached coping may represent the foundation of countertransference for some psychotherapists. These were significant predictors of therapist emotional exhaustion over and above workload. Psychotherapists would benefit from an increased awareness of their own early maladaptive schemas and coping mechanisms. Self-care, including professional development, consultations, peer support groups, and personal therapy throughout one’s career could reduce one’s susceptibility to burnout.
Super-shrinks and Pseudo-shrinks: Therapists Differ in Their Outcomes
Okiishi, J., Lambert, M. J., Nielsen, S. L., & Ogles, B. M. (2003). Waiting for supershrink: An empirical analysis of therapist effects. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 10(6), 361-373.
Much of psychotherapy research has focused on searching for effective psychotherapies rather than focusing on effective psychotherapists. Research on psychotherapies generally assumes that therapists are equally effective or relatively less important to patient outcomes than the interventions themselves. Therapists in clinical trials are trained to follow a manual in an attempt to reduce the therapists’ impact on patient outcomes, and to focus the study on the specific ingredients of the therapy itself. However, research indicates that the degree to which a therapist follows a manual has little bearing on patient outcomes, and that therapists do differ in terms of their patients’ outcomes. In one large study, between 33% and 65% of therapists was ineffective or harmful. Okiishi and colleagues asked if it is possible to identify highly effective therapists (“super-shrinks”) and highly ineffective therapists (“pseudo-shrinks”) based on their patients’ outcomes. The therapists were 56 men and women who treated 1779 clients in a university counselling centre. Each therapist saw at least 15 clients, so that there was a good sampling of therapists’ outcomes across a variety of clients. Therapists had a range of experience, training, and theoretical orientations. Clients were adults who had moderate to severe problems with anxiety, depression, or adjustment. Outcomes were measured after every session, and the average number of sessions was 5.16 (SD = 7.20). On average clients improved so that their level of distress significantly declined. Therapist characteristics (sex, experience, training background, theoretical orientation) did not predict patient outcomes. However, client change varied significantly, so that some clients improved at a faster rate than others, some did not change, and some got worse. There were no differences between therapists in their clients’ level of distress, so therapists had equivalent caseloads in terms of client initial distress. However, therapists significantly differed from each other in terms of their clients’ outcomes. For example, the top 3 therapists consistently had clients who got better (super-shrinks), and the bottom 3 therapists consistently had clients who got worse (pseudo-shrinks).
One would hope that a loved one would get to see a “super-shrink” therapist, since these therapists seem to consistently have clients who do well in therapy. But what about the average or “pseudo-shrink” therapist– what can be done to elevate their skills and their patients’ outcomes? We’ve discussed in this blog several things therapists can do to improve their outcomes, including: using progress monitoring in their practice, receiving training focused on deliberate practice, and seeking out specific continuing education around developing, maintaining, and repairing the therapeutic alliance.