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.
Efficacy of Psychotherapies for Borderline Personality Disorder
Cristea, I.A., Gentili, C., Cotet, C.D., Palomba, D., Barbui, C., & Cuijpers, P. (2017). Efficacy of psychotherapies for borderline personality disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.4287.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a debilitating disorder characterized by: severe instability of emotions, relationships, and behaviors. More than 75% of those with BPD have engaged in deliberate self-harm, and suicide rates are between 8% and 10%. BPD is the most common of the personality disorders with a high level of functional impairment. Several psychotherapies have been developed to treat BPD. Most notably, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and psychodynamic treatments like mentalization-based and transference-focused psychotherapy. This meta-analysis by Cristea and colleagues examined the efficacy of psychotherapy for BPD. Studies included in the meta-analysis (33 trials of 2256 clients) were randomized controlled trials in which a psychotherapy was compared to a control condition for adults with BPD. For all borderline-relevant outcomes (combined borderline symptoms, self-harm, parasuicidal and suicidal behaviors) yielded a significant but small effect of the psychotherapies over control conditions at post treatment (g = 0.35; 95%CI: 0.20, 0.50). At follow up, there was again a significant effect of the psychotherapies over control conditions with a moderate effect (g = 0.45; 95% CI: 0.15, 0.75). When the different treatment types were looked at separately, DBT (g = 0.34; 95% CI: 0.15, 0.53) and psychodynamic approaches (g = 0.41; 95% CI: 0.12, 0.69) were more effective than control interventions, while CBT (g = 0.24; 95% CI: −0.01, 0.49) was not. The authors also reported a significant amount of publication bias, suggesting that published results may be positively biased in favor of the psychotherapies.
The results indicate a small effect of psychotherapies at post-treatment and a moderate effect at follow-up for the treatment of BPD. DBT and psychodynamic treatment were significantly more effective than control conditions, whereas CBT was not. However, all effects were likely inflated by publication bias, indicating a tendency to publish only positive findings. Nevertheless, various independent psychotherapies demonstrated efficacy for symptoms of self harm, suicide, and general psychopathology in BPD.
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.
Effects of Combining Psychotherapy and Pharmacotherapy on Quality of Life in Depression
Kamenov, K., Twomey, C., Cabello, M., Prina, A.M., & Ayuso-Mateos, J.L. (2016). The efficacy of psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, and their combination on functioning and quality of life in depression: A meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine, doi: 10.1017/S0033291716002774.
Both psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy are efficacious for reducing symptoms of depression. Some studies suggest that functioning (i.e., the ability to engage in work, school, and social activities) and quality of life (i.e., satisfaction with these activities and perception of one’s health) are just as important to depressed patients as is reducing their symptoms. In fact, many patients place greater priority on improving functioning compared to reducing symptoms. In this meta analysis, Kamenov and colleagues assess the relative efficacy of psychotherapy vs pharmacotherapy in improving functioning and quality of life. They also evaluate if combining psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy is efficacious relative to either treatment alone. The meta analysis included k = 153 studies of over 29,000 participants. Psychotherapies often included CBT and interpersonal psychotherapy. Compared to control groups (k = 37 to 52) both psychotherapy (g = 0.35, 95% CI = 0.24, 0.46) and medications (g = 0.27, 95% CI = 0.21, 0.32) significantly improved functioning. Also, compared to controls both psychotherapy (g = 0.35, 95% CI = 0.26, 0.44) and medications (g = 0.31, 95% CI = 0.24, 0.38) significantly improved quality of life in depressed participants. In studies that directly compared psychotherapy and medications, there were no significant differences when it came to improving functioning, but there was a small significant advantage to psychotherapy over medication for improving quality of life (g = 0.21, 95% CI = 0.01, 0.43). Combined psychotherapy and medications (k = 19) was more effective to improve functioning compared to pharmacotherapy alone (g = 0.34, 95% CI = 0.18, 0.50) and compared to psychotherapy alone (g = 0.32, 95% CI = 0.14, 0.49). Combined treatment was also more efficacious for improved quality of life compared to medications alone (g = 0.36, 95% CI = 0.11, 0.62) and to psychotherapy alone (g = 0.39, 95% CI = 0.19, 0.58).
Combined treatment of medications and psychotherapy is more effective than either treatment alone for improving functioning and quality of life. However, most patients prefer psychotherapy to medications, and some studies indicate that many patients choose not to get treated at all rather than receive medications. Further, quality of life can be substantially compromised by medication side effects. Clinicians should take these factors into account when considering monotherapy with antidepressant medications or combined treatment of pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy for depression.
The Quality of Psychotherapy Research Affects The Size of Treatment Effects for CBT
Cuijpers, P., Cristea, I.A., Karyotaki, E., Reijnders, M., Huibers, M.J.J. (2016). How effective are cognitive behavior therapies for major depression and anxiety disorders? A meta-analytic update of the evidence. World Psychiatry, 15, 245-258.
You might think that an esoteric topic like study quality should not really be of interest or concern to clinicians – but it is an important topic with practice implications. In this meta analysis Pim Cuijpers and his research group updated the meta analytic evidence for the efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for a variety of disorders (major depressive disorder [MDD], generalized anxiety disorder [GAD], panic disorder [PAD], and social anxiety disorder [SAD]). The important thing about meta analyses is that the method combines the effect sizes from all relevant studies into a single metric – an average effect size. These average effect sizes are much more reliable than findings from any one single study. In fact, whenever possible, clinical decision-making should be based on a meta analysis and systematic review and not on a single study. Meta analyses also allow one to give more weight to those studies that have larger sample sizes, and that employ better methodologies. Even more, meta analytic techniques allow one to adjust the averaged effect size by taking into account publication bias (i.e., an indication of the effects from studies that might have been completed but were never published, likely because they had unfavorable findings). Usually, average effect sizes are lower when they are adjusted for study quality and publication bias. Cuijpers and colleagues’ meta analyses found that the unadjusted average effects of CBT were large for each of the disorders (ranging from g = .75 to .88 [confidence intervals not reported]). However adjusting for publication bias reduced the effects to medium-sized for MDD (g = .65) and GAD (g = .59). Only 17.4% of the individual studies of CBT were considered to be of “high quality” (i.e., studies that use the best methodology to reduce bias, like random allocation, blinding, using all the available data, etc.). After adjusting for study quality, the effects of CBT for SAD (g = .61) and PAD (g = .76) were also reduced to medium-sized. Not surprisingly, the effects of CBT were largest when the treatment was compared to a wait-list no-treatment control group. The effects were small to moderate when CBT was compared to treatment as usual or to a placebo.
Even when adjusting for study quality and publication bias, the average effects of CBT were medium-sized for a variety of common disorders compared to control conditions. Unfortunately, the quality of the studies was not high for most trials, reducing the effect sizes and lowering our confidence in the efficacy of the treatment. Nevertheless, the findings of this meta analysis suggest that CBT will likely have moderate effects for the average patient with MDD, SAD, PAD, and GAD.