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 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.
Specific and Non-Specific Effects in Psychotherapy
Palpacuer, C., Gallet, L., Drapier, D., Reymann, J-M., Falissard, B., & Naudet, Florian (2016). Specific and non-specific effects of psychotherapeutic interventions for depression: Results from a meta-analysis of 84 studies. Journal of Psychiatric Research.
Specific effect in psychotherapy refer to those technical interventions that are based on a treatment model that are specific to a particular modality. For example, the effects on symptoms caused by transference interpretations, cognitive restructuring, or exposure might all be considered specific effects. Non-specific effects is a very broad term that sometimes refers to effects on symptoms caused by common factors across all psychotherapies like therapist empathy, therapeutic alliance, or positive regard. Non-specific effects has also been used to refer to any extra-therapeutic effects that are more peripherally related to treatments, like type of control groups used in a study, researcher allegiance, number of treatment sessions, or length of follow-up. In this meta-analysis of 84 studies of over 6000 participants, Palpacuer and colleagues examined the association between non-specific factors (defined as intervention format [group or individual], client demographics, number of treatment sessions, length of follow up, and researcher allegiance to one of the treatment modalities) and treatment outcomes for depression. First, they looked at whether the specific type of intervention (cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic, interpersonal, problem solving, and others) was associated with reductions in depressive symptoms. Second, they assessed if the non-specific factors added to the prediction of improved depressive symptoms and accounted for some of the effects of specific types of interventions. Similar to previous findings, all psychotherapies were significantly more effective than waiting-list controls. However, the effects of the specific intervention approaches became non-significant when the non-specific factors were included in the analysis. That is, non-specific factors seemed to account for some of the effects of the specific treatments. In particular, if the study was conducted in North America vs Europe (β = 0.55, 95% CI: 0.22; 0.90), if the researcher had an allegiance to a particular therapeutic approach (β = 0.29, 95% CI: 0.07; 0.52), or if the number of sessions was higher (β = 0.03, 95% CI: 0.01; 0.04) then depressive outcomes were better.
This meta analysis of over 87 studies suggests that although various psychotherapies are effective, there remain questions about how and why they work. For example, the findings suggest that North American patients may have different expectations and higher responses to treatment, that a researcher's belief in the effectiveness of their favored intervention actually improves patients' outcomes, and that a higher number of sessions may also result in better outcomes. These factors appear to account for an important proportion of the specific effects of each type of psychotherapy.
Patients are More Likely to Refuse and Drop Out of Pharmacotherapy Than Psychotherapy
Swift, J.K., Greenberg, R.P., Tompkins, K.A., & Parkin, S.R. (2017). Treatment refusal and premature termination in psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, and their combination: A meta-analysis of head-to-head comparisons. Psychotherapy, 54, 47-57.
Treatment refusal occurs when a patient is offered an intervention but then fails to begin it. In treatment studies, this may occur when a patient initially agrees to participate in a trial but then discontinues immediately after finding out what intervention they will receive. In a clinic setting, a patient might call a mental health professional to schedule an initial appointment but not show up. This causes problems for the patient who is not receiving treatment, and for the professional who has an unfilled therapy hour. Premature termination, on the other hand occurs when a patient begins treatment but ends unilaterally against the provider’s recommendations and prior to recovery. Again, these patients typically do not improve and they do not receive an adequate dose of the treatment. Barriers to accepting or completing psychotherapy might include the cost, and the time and effort involved to engage in the therapeutic process. Barriers to accepting or completing pharmacotherapy might also include cost, unpleasant side effects, and fewer contacts with a non-judgemental listening professional. The aim of Swift and colleagues’ meta-analysis was to compare rates of treatment refusal and premature termination between psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy. The meta-analysis included 186 studies, 57 of which (with 6,693 participants) reported data on treatment refusal. A significant number of patients (8.2%; 95% CI: 7.0, 9.6%) failed to start treatment after they were told what treatment they would receive. Participants were 1.76 times more likely (95% CI: 1.27, 2.45) to refuse treatment if they were offered pharmacotherapy compared to psychotherapy. The average premature termination rate from treatment was 21.9% (95% CI: 20.6%, 23.3%). Patients assigned to pharmacotherapy were 1.2 times more likely (95% CI: 1.03, 1.41) than those who were assigned to psychotherapy to discontinue treatment prematurely.
Participants were almost 2 times more likely to refuse treatment if they were offered pharmacotherapy compared to psychotherapy, especially for social anxiety disorder, depression, and panic disorder. Similarly, premature termination was higher for pharmacotherapy compared to psychotherapy, especially for eating disorders and depressive disorders. Previous research indicated that patients are 3 times more likely to prefer psychotherapy over medications for mental disorders. Research indicates that mental health professionals should work to incorporate patient preferences, values, and beliefs when making treatment decisions in order to reduce premature termination and treatment refusal.
Does Continuation of Anti-Depressant Medication Reduce Relapse?
Gueorguieva, R., Chekroud, A.M., & Krystal, J.H. (2017). Trajectories of relapse in randomised, placebo-controlled trials of treatment discontinuation in major depressive disorder: An individual patient-level data meta-analysis. Lancet Psychiatry.
Individuals with a history of depression who get better have a 30% to 50% chance of relapse in the first year. That is, major depression tends to take a recurrent course, so that about a third to half of patients who initially improve will then experience a re-emergence of symptoms. In this meta-analysis, Gueorguieva and colleagues looked at whether they could identify classes of patients who respond differently to antidepressant medications depending on whether they discontinued or continued with the medications after symptoms improved. The meta-analysis included over 1,400 patients from four studies of duloxetine or fluoxetine (i.e., Cymbalta or Prozac) who participated in a discontinuation trial. A discontinuation trial design involves randomly assigning patients who respond positively to the medication either (1) to stay on the effective medication or (2) to discontinue the treatment and receive a placebo. Such a design gives us an estimate of the advantage of maintenance versus discontinuation of medications to reduce relapse of depression in the longer term. Gueorguieva and colleagues found that 33% of those in the medication continuation condition relapsed (i.e., 33% those who responded well to the initial trial of medications and who then continued with medications had a recurrence of depressive symptoms). By contrast, 46% of those in the placebo/medication discontinuation condition relapsed (i.e., 46% of those who responded well to the initial trial of medications and who then received a placebo had a recurrence of depressive symptoms). In other words, continuation of antidepressant medications resulted in a small 13% reduction in relapse rates compared to continuation with a placebo.
This meta analysis indicates that continuing with antidepressant medications after depressive symptoms remit provides only a modest level of protection against a relapse of depression. Thus continuation with antidepressants after symptoms improve may not be worth it for patients who struggle with medication side effects and complications, or who cannot afford continuation of the medications. There is growing evidence that psychotherapy is effective for preventing relapse, likely because psychotherapy teaches patients ways of coping and interacting with others that allows them to manage life stresses more effectively after the treatment is over.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy to Prevent Relapse of Depression
Kuyken, W., Warren, F.C., Taylor, R.S., Whalley, B., Crane, C….Dalgliesh, T. (2016). Efficacy of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in prevention of depressive relapse An individual patient data meta-analysis from randomized trials. JAMA Psychiatry, 73, 565-574.
Depression results in a high level of disability and its social and economic costs appear to be rising. Although many effective treatments for depression do exist, relapse of depressive symptoms is a significant problem for many who successfully complete treatment. One of the interventions used to prevent relapse is mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). MBCT teaches psychological skills that target cognitive factors that may cause relapse among those who have a history of depression by combining mindfulness training with cognitive interventions. Previous reviews have indicated the efficacy of MBCT for relapse prevention. In this meta-analysis, Kuyken and colleagues update the previous reviews and look at specific sub groups of patients who may respond differently to MBCT. From a comprehensive search of the literature, they identified 9 published randomized controlled trials comparing MBCT to another condition such as usual care, antidepressant medications, or another active treatment. These 9 studies included 1258 patients. MBCT resulted in a reduced risk of relapse in depressive symptoms compared to those who did not received MBCT within a 60 week follow up period (hazard ratio (HR), 0.79; 95%CI, 0.64-0.97). Four studies specifically compared MBCT to antidepressant medication and showed that those who received MBCT had a reduced risk of relapse compared to antidepressants (HR, 0.77; 95%CI, 0.60 – 0.98; I2, 0%). The authors also found that the preventive effect of MBCT on depression relapse declined over time. No demographic variables were associated with the effects of MBCT, but higher levels of depression at baseline were associated with a larger effect of MBCT.
The findings of this meta analysis show that MBCT helps to prevent depression relapse in those who have recovered from depressive symptoms. Its effects appear to be superior to usual care and to antidepressant medications. Unlike anti depressants, those who were treated with MBCT learned skills that helped them to cope with stressors that may precipitate another depressive episode. The effects of MBCT appear to be particularly useful for those with greater depressive symptoms at the outset, but those with lower depressive symptoms may not benefit as much from MBCT.
Individual versus Group Psychotherapy
Burlingame, G.M., Seebeck, J.D., Janis, R.A., Whitcomb, K.E., Barkowski, S., Rosendahl, J., & Strauss, B. (2016). Outcome differences between individual and group formats when identical and nonidentical treatments, patients, and doses are compared: A 25-year meta-analytic perspective. Psychotherapy, 53, 446-461.
With increasing service demands being put on mental health systems, clinicians and administrators are looking to more efficient ways of providing care to more patients. One option is group therapy in which more patients can be treated with fewer resources. However, are groups as effective as individual therapy for mental disorders? This meta-analysis by Burlingame and colleagues addresses this question by examining 67 studies in which group and individual therapy were directly compared within the same study. The majority of studies included adults with anxiety, mood, or substance use disorders, with some studies focusing on medical conditions, eating or personality disorders. Two-thirds of studies were of cognitive-behavioral therapy, but other treatment types like interpersonal, psychodynamic, and supportive therapy were also tested. Groups were defined as having at least 3 patients per group. The average number of sessions for group and individual therapy were equivalent (group M = 14.67, SD = 8.75; individual 15.94, SD = 14.37)), and as expected group therapy sessions were longer in minutes (M = 100.39, SD = 30.87) than individual therapy sessions (M = 56.55, SD = 14.37) given the multi-person demands of groups. Groups were primarily closed to new members after starting, they tended to have homogenous membership based on diagnosis, and groups tended to be co-led by 2 therapists. Individual and group therapy were not significantly different for all disorders and outcomes at post-treatment (g = -0.03; 95%CI = -0.10, 0.04), short-term follow-up (g = 0.01; 95% CI = -0.13, 0.11), and long-term follow-up (g = 0.00; 95% CI= -0.12, 0.13). Drop out rates for group therapy (17.28%) and individual therapy (14.96%) were not significantly different (OR = 1.10; 95% CI = 0.90, 1.33), and patients were likely to accept group therapy (88.76%) as often as they accepted individual therapy (84.83%) when one or the other was offered. Pre- to post-treatment effect sizes were moderately large for both interventions (group: g = 0.60, 95% CI = 0.48, 0.72; individual: g = 0.53, 95% CI = 0.42, 0.65). Patients presenting with depression, substance us, anxiety, or eating disorders had the highest level of improvement.
When identical treatments, patients, and doses are compared, individual and group therapy resulted in equivalent outcomes across of a variety of disorders. This is good news for clinicians and agencies looking to maximize resources to treat more patients. However, running a group is more complex than providing individual therapy. Finding a sufficient number of patients to start a group, assessing and preparing each patient prior to starting a group, writing a note per patient per session, and managing attrition is logistically more challenging. Further, most therapists are not formally trained to provide group interventions and so they may find the task of managing a substantially larger amount of within-session group process information to be complex. Finally, as Burlingame and colleagues indicate, there are institutional considerations so that group programs require a milieu that supports group referrals and flexibility in scheduling. Nevertheless the findings of this meta analysis indicate the potential for group therapy to provide efficacious treatments for mental disorders.