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
Transference in Psychotherapy: A Review of the Research
Hoglend, P. (2014). Exploration of the patient-therapist relationship in psychotherapy. American Journal of Psychiatry, 171, 1056-1066.
In this overview of patient-therapist relationship factors, Per Hoglend reviews research on transference in psychotherapy. He argues that transference and transference work is a specific technique that focuses on exploring the patient-therapist relationship. Hoglend takes a broad definition of transference as: the patient’s pattern of feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors that emerge in the therapeutic relationship and reflect the patient’s personality functioning. Hoglend also defines transference work as any therapist intervention that refers to or explains the patient’s experience of the therapist and their interaction. These interventions include the therapist: (1) addressing transactions in the patient-therapist relationship; (2) encouraging exploration of feelings and thoughts about the therapy or therapist; (3) encouraging the patient to discuss how he or she believes the therapist might feel or think about the patient; (4) including him or herself in interpreting the patient’s dynamics; and (5) interpreting repetitive interpersonal dynamics and linking these to the therapy relationship. More than 30 studies have been published on providing empirical evidence for the relationship between transference work in psychotherapy and positive patient interpersonal outcomes. Effect sizes of the association between transference work and patient outcomes tend to be large. Some of the research indicates that low frequency of transference interventions is useful, but that a higher frequency may lead to negative effects on the patient. Research on transference-focused psychotherapy indicates that it is as effective as dialectical behavior therapy and supportive psychotherapy for borderline personality disorder, but that transference-focused therapy produced better outcomes for attachment related functioning like mentalizing. In the First Experimental Study of Transference Work (FEST), Hoglend found that patients with low quality of object relations (i.e. a poorer ability to maintain close relationships and to regulate affect) benefited most from transference focused therapy. However, those with high quality of object relations did not require the transference work to get better. Also, women responded better to transference work than men. There are some studies of therapeutic approaches like cognitive behavior therapy, in which patients with depression had better outcomes when the patient-therapist relationship was explicitly discussed.
Hoglend argues that transference work in psychotherapy is an active ingredient that can lead to specific change in some patients. Most studies that Hoglend reviewed showed significant and large associations between transference work and interpersonal changes in patients. Exploring the patient-therapist relationship appears to be most useful for female patients, those with difficult interpersonal relationships, and those with more severe personality pathology. Patients with more mature relationships may not benefit as much from transference work. Although generally effective, if transference work is used too frequently in a session it can also lead to negative patient outcomes.
Managing Countertransference: Meta-analytic Evidence
Hayes, J.A., Gelso, C.J., & Hummel, A.M. (2011). Managing countertransference. Psychotherapy, 48, 88-97.
This is another in a series of meta-analyses on relationship factors that work in psychotherapy that appeared also in John Norcross’ book Psychotherapy Relationships That Work. As I mentioned in previous blogs, meta-analyses represent the state of the art in systematically reviewing a research literature. In meta-analyses, the effect sizes from many studies are aggregated into an estimate of an overall effect that is much more reliable than any single study. In these meta-analyses, Hayes and colleagues assessed whether therapist countertransference had a negative effect on patient outcomes, and whether successful management of countertransference is related to better therapy outcomes. Traditionally, countertransference was seen as solely related to therapist unconscious conflicts, and countertransference was to be avoided. Broader conceptualizations view countertransference as representing all of the therapist’s reactions to the client. More interpersonal or relational models view countertransference as therapist reactions that complement a patient’s ways of relating, or see countertransference as mutually constructed by therapist and patient, so that the needs and conflicts of both patient and therapist contribute to the manifestation of countertransference in therapy. Hayes and colleagues argue that the definition of countertransference must include some aspect of therapist unresolved conflicts, and that countertransference in the therapist is potentially useful to understanding patient dynamics and personality style. Countertransference may be reflected in therapist anger, boredom, anxiety, despair, arousal, etc. These feelings range in intensity as well. According to Hayes and colleagues, successful management of countertransference might involve: self-insight (therapist being aware of their own feelings, attitudes, personality, etc.); self integration (therapist’s healthy character structure); anxiety management (therapist’s ability to control and understand own anxiety); empathy (the ability to put one’s self in the other’s shoes in order to focus on the client’s needs); and conceptualizing ability (therapist’s ability to draw on theory to understand the patient’s role in the therapeutic relationship). Hayes’ and colleagues meta-analyses included between 7 to 11 studies of 478 to 1065 participants. The findings showed that countertransference in the therapist was associated with negative patient outcomes, though the effect was small. Successful management of countertransference was associated with better therapy outcomes, and the effect was large.
Successful management of countertransference is a characteristic of effective therapists. Therapists can work on a number of issues to reduce the negative impact of countertransference and to increase its utility in helping to understand certain patients. Therapists can work to gain self-understanding and work on their own psychological health. The research suggests the importance of therapists resolving their own major conflicts through personal therapy and clinical supervision. Having a good grasp of psychological theory and theories of therapy can also help with using countertransference effectively, as long as the theory is not used defensively by the therapist. Further, there is value in therapists admitting mistakes and acknowledging that their own conflict was the source of the error. Although countertransference theory and research focuses on the therapist, Hayes and colleagues acknowledge that some clients evoke greater and more intense countertransference reactions that others.
Child Abuse and Mental Disorders in Canada: A Population Survey
Afifi, T. O., MacMillan, H. L., Boyle, M., Taillieu, T., Cheung, K., & Sareen, J. (2014). Child abuse and mental disorders in Canada. Canadian Medical Association Journal, cmaj-131792.
Childhood adversity, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, and loss of an attachment figure early in life is well known to result in a number of health and mental health problems later in life. Afifi and colleagues refer to child abuse at a significant public health problem worldwide. Despite the well known effects of child abuse, until recently there has been little research on the estimates of abuse and its outcomes in Canada. In their study, Afifi and colleagues looked at three types of child abuse (physical abuse, sexual abuse, and intimate partner violence) and its effects on 14 mental conditions including suicide and substance abuse. The authors used data from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey that included a representative sample of respondents aged 15 years and older living in the 10 provinces representing over 25,000 Canadians. The household survey response rate was close to 80%, and those over the age of 18 (N = 23,395) were asked about child abuse that occurred before the age of 16. Physical abuse was defined as any instances of being slapped, punched, kicked, burned etc. Sexual abuse was defined as being forced into any unwanted sexual activity by being threatened. Exposure to partner violence was classified as having seen or heard parents, step-parents, or guardians hitting each other. The prevalence of any of these 3 types of child abuse was 32.1%, with physical abuse being most common (26.1%), followed by sexual abuse (10.1%) and exposure to intimate partner violence (7.9%). Women were more likely than men to have experienced childhood sexual abuse (14.4% versus 5.8%) and exposure to intimate partner violence (8.9% versus 6.9%) as children. Men were more likely than women to have experienced child physical abuse (31.0% versus 21.3%). All forms of child abuse were associated with an increase in later mental illness, such that those who experienced any form of child abuse were over 3 times more likely to have a later mental illness. Obsessive–compulsive disorder was associated specifically with sexual abuse, eating disorders were specifically associated with physical abuse, post traumatic stress disorder was specifically associated with sexual abuse and certain types of physical abuse. All 3 types of abuse were associated with drug abuse/dependence, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. Exposure to a higher number of abuse types (i.e., sexual abuse, physical abuse, and intimate partner violence) was associated with more mental illnesses, and the effect was worse for women.
Child abuse is an important public health problem in Canada and is associated with a number of mental health problems in adulthood. Health care providers should be aware of the relation between specific types of child abuse and certain mental conditions. Clinicians working in the mental health field should acquire skills in assessing patients for exposure to abuse, and should understand the implications for treatment.
Are Humanistic-Experiential Therapies Effective? Review and Meta-Analyses
Elliott, R.E., Greenberg, L.S., Watson, J. Timulak, L., & Briere, E. (2013). Research on humanistic-experiential psychotherapies. In M.E. Lambert (Ed.), Bergin and Garfield’s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, 6th Edition (pp. 495-538). New York: Wiley.
Humanistic or experiential psychotherapies (HEP) include: person centred therapy, gestalt therapy, emotion-focused therapy, existential psychotherapy, and others. Elliott and colleagues argue that each of these approaches share the characteristic of valuing the centrality of an empathic and therapeutic relationship. That is, an authentic relationship between patient and therapist provides the client with a new and emotionally validating experience. HEP methods that deepen client emotional experiences occur within an empathic relationship, and interpersonal safety is key to enhancing a client’s attention for self awareness and exploration. Despite the long history of research in HEP, these treatments are often used as “control” conditions in outcome studies of psychotherapies – that is, to control for “non-specific” or relationship factors. Elliott and colleagues conducted meta analyses on the effectiveness of humanistic-experiential therapies. Overall, they included 199 studies of over 14,000 patients. Pre to post treatment effect sizes were large (d = .95), indicating a positive effect HEP across a wide range of clients. (A note on effect sizes: Cohen’s d < .20 represents a negligible effect; d = .20 to .49 is a small effect; d = .50 to .79 is a moderate effect; and d > .80 is a large effect). Compared to a wait-list control (62 studies), the positive effect of HEP was significant with a moderate effect size for the difference (d = .76). There were 135 studies that compared HEP to other active forms of psychotherapy. The difference between HEP and non-HEP therapies were trivial and non significant (d = .01). In the 76 studies that compared HEP to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), those who received CBT had better outcomes, but the effects were negligible (d = .13). The authors reported that there is enough evidence to indicate that HEP are efficacious for depressive disorders, substance misuse, and relationship problems; and HEP are probably efficacious for anxiety and psychotic disorders.
The research on outcomes of humanistic-existential psychotherapies (HEP) provides support for the effectiveness of these therapies for a variety of disorders, and provides further support for the importance of the facilitative and relationship factors that help patients get better. Empathy, genuineness, positive regard each comes with research support to indicate their importance to patient outcomes. Elliot and colleagues conclude that the education of psychotherapists is incomplete without greater emphasis on HEP and its facilitative components.
Psychological Interventions for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Gerger, H., Munder, T., Gemperli, E., Nuesch, E., Trelle, S., Juni, P., & Barth, J. (2014). Integrating fragmented evidence by network meta-analysis. Relative effectiveness of psychological interventions for adults with post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychological Medicine, doi:10.1017/S0033291714000853.
Gerger and colleagues conducted a network meta-analysis to summarize the evidence on the effectiveness of psychological interventions for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Psychological trauma is common in the population (between 40% and 90% lifetime prevalence), and many people develop symptoms following the trauma that may turn into PTSD. For example people may re-experience the traumatic event, avoid stimuli related to the traumatic event, or experience increased arousal. Even those who do not meet DSM-IV criteria for PTSD may still have severe impairment and chronic symptoms. Specific interventions for PTSD include exposure to trauma related stimuli or working through cognitions related to the trauma. Non-specific interventions might include supportive therapy or relaxation treatments. As I mentioned in previous blogs, meta-analyses are the best way to summarize the evidence of existing research in order to make clinical decisions about practice. Meta-analyses allow us to pool the effect sizes from individual studies of many patients into an average effect. This method provides the most reliable estimates of the effects of treatments – no single study can be as reliable. Network meta-analysis is a relatively new method that not only allows one to accumulate results from trials that directly compare the same two treatments, but it also allows indirect comparisons of a treatment and another treatment that was tested in a different study. In their network meta-analysis, Gerger and colleagues included 66 studies representing 4,196 patients. Specific treatments included cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT), eye movement disensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and exposure based therapy (ET). Non-specific interventions included stress management (SM) and supportive therapy (ST). The positive effect of specific interventions (CBT, EMDR, and ET) compared to a wait-list control was large. The positive effect of non-specific interventions (SM, ST) compared to a wait-list control was moderate. There were no differences in effectiveness among the psychological interventions, except EMDR outperformed ST. However, this difference disappeared when only the large scale trials were considered (results from large scale trials tend to be more reliable). Patients with a formal diagnosis of PTSD appear to benefit more from psychological interventions than those with sub-clinical PTSD, though both groups improved.
Different specific interventions for PTSD (CBT, EMDR, ET) appear to have similar positive benefits with large effects. Indirect interventions show moderately positive effects. Supportive therapy (ST) may be beneficial, but the authors indicated that it is too early to conclude that ST is as effective as direct specific interventions. All patients benefit from psychological interventions, though those with more severe symptoms stand to gain the most. Given the similar outcomes of interventions and the number of effective interventions, researchers are now arguing that factors such as access, acceptability, and patient preference should influence the choice of treatment.
Client Preferences Affect Satisfaction, Completion, and Outcome
Lindheim, O., Bennett, C.B., Trentacosta, C.J., & McLear, C. (2014). Client preferences affect treatment satisfaction, completion, and clinical outcome: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 34, 506-517.
Giving clients a choice about treatments or to receive their preferred treatment might improve treatment outcomes. Preference usually means clients passively receiving the treatment they prefer. Choice involves clients actively making a decision about which treatment option to receive. Clients may also make informed or uninformed preferences and choices. Informed preferences and choices refer to providing clients with information or education about treatment options. Having a choice or getting one’s preference between two or more efficacious treatments might have several beneficial effects. For example, some research shows that treatment preferences positively affect therapeutic alliance, possibly because clients may enter treatment with a more positive outlook about what intervention they receive. Patients receiving a preferred treatment may also have better overall communication with their providers which may lead to better outcomes. In their meta-analysis, Lindheim and colleagues were interested in the effects of client preference or choice on treatment satisfaction, completion, and clinical outcomes. The meta-analysis included 34 different studies. Client preference or choice of treatment was modestly but significantly and consistently related to satisfaction, completion rates, and to client outcomes. Clients who were involved in shared decision making, who chose a treatment condition, or who received their preference had higher satisfaction, increased completion rates, and better clinical outcomes compared to clients who were not involved in the decision, who did not choose, or who did not receive their preference. Setting (inpatient vs outpatient) or diagnosis did not have an effect on these findings.
The findings highlight the clinical benefits of assessing client preferences and providing treatment options when two or more efficacious options are available. Increasingly, two or more efficacious options are available for common mental disorders like depression and anxiety. Many times, patients prefer psychotherapy over medications, for example. However, whereas medication prescriptions for mental disorders like depression rose dramatically in the past decades, rates of psychotherapy use remained stable or slightly declined. For those disorders for which two or more treatment options have comparable efficacy, client preference should be the deciding factor.