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
How Much Psychotherapy is Needed to Treat Depression?
Cuijpers, P., Huibers, M., Ebert, D.D., Koole, S.L., & Andersson, G. (2013). How much psychotherapy is needed to treat depression? A metaregression analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 147, 1-13.
The question of the number of psychotherapy sessions and of frequency sessions (i.e., number of sessions per week) that are optimal for good outcomes could have implications for how psychotherapy is practiced and how it is reimbursed. In my August 2013 PPRNet Blog, I reported on research that indicated half of patients recover after 21 sessions of psychotherapy. However, that also means that half do not recover in that number of sessions. Many of those who do not recover require another 29 sessions to recover. Research and practice in psychotherapy is largely based on a “one-session-per-week” model. Some researchers, however, have found that an increase in the frequency sessions per week could improve or speed up outcomes. Cuijpers and colleagues (2013) did a meta-regression to assess these questions for short-term psychotherapies for depression. (Meta-regression is a type of meta-analysis in which predictors from many studies are aggregated and their averaged effects on the aggregated outcome are assessed. This produces much more reliable findings than are possible from a single study.) The authors assessed predictors such as the number and frequency of sessions, and they looked at symptom outcomes for depression. The authors found 70 controlled studies that included 5403 patients. More than two-thirds of the studies included CBT as the psychotherapy. Average length of treatment was 11 sessions, and the maximum number of sessions was 24. The number of sessions across studies ranged from .44 to 2 per week, and the average per week was 1. The overall effect size for the treatment was medium sized (g = .59), though the effect became smaller (g = .40) when publication bias was corrected. (Publication bias refers to the likelihood that some less favorable studies or results were not published thus creating an overestimation of the effect of the treatment. See my May 2013 PPRNet Blog). Cuijper and colleagues’ meta-regression showed a small but significant association between greater number of sessions and outcomes for depression; but more importantly, a greater number of sessions per week had a considerably larger positive influence on the effects of psychotherapy for depression.
The findings from Cuijpers and colleagues (2013) meta-regression are particularly relevant to time limited treatment of depression with CBT. The total number of sessions was less important than the frequency of sessions per week. The results suggest that increasing the intensity or frequency of CBT sessions per week might result in a more efficient therapy and faster relief for patients with depression.
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Are The Parts as Good as The Whole?
Bell, E. C., Marcus, D. K., & Goodlad, J. K. (2013). Are the parts as good as the whole? A meta-analysis of component treatment studies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 81, 722-736.
Component studies (i.e., dismantling treatments or adding to existing treatments) may provide a method for identifying whether specific active ingredients in psychotherapy contribute to client outcomes. In a dismantling design, at least one element of the treatment is removed and the full treatment is compared to this dismantled version. In additive designs, an additional component is added to an existing treatment to examine whether the addition improves client outcomes. If the dismantled or added component is an active ingredient, then the condition with fewer components should yield less improvement. Among other things, results from dismantling or additive design studies can help clinicians make decisions about which components of treatments to add or remove with some clients who are not responding. For example, Jacobson and colleagues (1996) conducted a dismantling study of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for depression. They compared: (1) the full package of CBT, (2) behavioral activation (BA) plus CBT modification of automatic thoughts, and (3) BA alone. This study failed to find differences among the three treatment conditions. These findings were interpreted to indicate that BA was as effective as CBT, and there followed an increased interest in behavioral treatments for depression. However, relying on a single study to influence practice is risky because single studies are often statistically underpowered and their results are not as reliable as the collective body of research. One way to evaluate the collective research is by meta analysis, which allows one to assess an overall effect size in the available literature (see my November, 2013 blog on why clinicians should rely on meta analyses). In their meta analysis, Bell and colleagues (2013) collected 66 component studies from 1980 to 2010. For the dismantling studies, there were no significant differences between the full treatments and the dismantled treatments. For the additive studies, the treatment with the added component yielded a small but significant effect at treatment completion and at follow-up. These effects were only found for the specific problems that were targeted by the treatment. Effects were smaller and non-non-significant for other outcomes such as quality of life.
Psychotherapists are sometimes faced with a decision about whether to supplement current treatments with an added component, or whether to remove a component that may not be helping. Adding components to existing treatments leads to modestly improved outcomes at least with regard to targeted symptoms. Removing components appears not to have an impact on outcomes. The findings of Bell and colleagues’ (2013) meta analysis suggest that specific components or active ingredients of current treatments’ have a significant but small effect on outcomes. Some writers, such as Wampold, have argued that the small effects of specific components highlight the greater importance of common factors in psychotherapy (i.e., therapeutic alliance, client expectations, therapist empathy, etc.). This may be especially the case when it comes to improving a patient’s quality of life.
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