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
Clients and Therapists Differ in Their Perceptions of Psychotherapy.
Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change: Starting in March 2013 I will review one chapter a month from the Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change in addition to reviewing psychotherapy research articles. Book chapters have more restrictive copy right rules than journal articles, so I will not provide author email addresses for these chapters. If you are interested, the Handbook table of content and sections of the book can be read on Google Books.
Bohart, A.C. & Wade, A.G. (2013). The client in psychotherapy. In M. Lambert (Ed.) Bergin and Garfield’s handbook of psychotherapy and behavior change (6th ed.), pp. 219-257. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Last month I blogged about the section in Bohart and Wade’s (2013) chapter that focused on client symptom severity and motivation. This month I focus on differences between clients and therapists on their perceptions of therapy processes and outcomes. In a previous blog (see June 2013), I reviewed a meta analysis that showed that given two equally effective treatments, clients should be given their preference in order to improve outcomes. Clearly, client perceptions and preferences are important, and perhaps more important than the therapist’s perceptions. Bohart and Wade (2013) reviewed a number of studies that demonstrated this. For example, studies show that client ratings of the therapeutic alliance predicted which therapists had better than average outcomes, whereas therapist ratings of the alliance did not predict outcomes. In three other meta-analyses, client perceptions of therapist genuineness, empathy, and therapeutic presence were each more predictive of outcomes than the respective therapists’ assessments of their own genuineness, empathy, and therapeutic presence. Clients also value different outcomes compared to therapists and researchers. Most research on outcomes tends to focus on symptom reduction, but clients appear to have a broader view of good outcomes. In a qualitative study, clients focused on healthier relationship patterns, an increase in self-understanding that led to freedom from and avoidance of self-destructive behaviour, and stronger valuing of the self, in addition to symptom reduction. Others report that clients define good outcomes as reengaging in meaningful work and social roles, and restoring their self respect.
Clients are more finely attuned to the therapeutic alliance than therapists, and perhaps are better at detecting relevant and helpful therapist stances. If you are interested in assessing therapeutic alliance or a therapist’s empathy, don’t ask the therapist, ask the client. This has implications for training therapists in helpful therapeutic relationship stances. Helping trainees find areas for continued development as a therapist (i.e., in terms of improving their empathy, genuineness, and therapeutic presence) may require asking their clients’ opinions. Client perceptions of therapist qualities are more relevant than therapist perceptions when assessing effective therapist relationship stances. Therapists should monitor client preferences, particularly if the client is having difficulty engaging in the therapy. If possible and reasonable, therapists should alter their relationship approach to a client based on client feedback. Regarding outcomes, therapists, researchers, and agencies should consider broader definitions of outcomes that are more aligned with what clients want and value. Improved self concept, improved relationships, and better social and work functioning may be just as important as symptom reduction for most clients.
Therapist Emotional Responses are Associated with Patient Personality
Colli, A., Tanzilli, A., Dimaggio, G., & Lingiardi, V. (2013). Patient personality and therapist response: An empirical investigation. American Journal of Psychiatry.
Therapist emotional responses to patients may refer to emotional reactions or to countertransference. Emotional responses can inform therapeutic interventions if therapists view their responses as informative about the patient’s feelings, perspectives, and relationship patterns. Clinicians have an intuitive sense that specific patient characteristics tend to evoke distinct emotional reactions (i.e., countertransferences) in the therapist. However, there are very few studies that examine the association between patient personality features and therapist emotional responses. A study Colli and colleagues examined this issue. They sampled 203 therapists from two theoretical orientations (psychodynamic = 103; cognitive-behavioral = 100). Among the therapists, 58% were women, mean age was 43 years, average experience was 10 years, average time spent providing psychotherapy was 16 hours per week, and 78% were in private practice. Each therapist was asked to randomly select a patient in their caseload, and complete a validated personality assessment questionnaire about the patient. Three weeks later, and immediately following a therapy session with the patient, the therapist completed a validated therapist emotional response questionnaire. Half of the patients were women (53%), mean age was 34 years, average length of treatment was 5 months (once per week), and 72% were diagnosed with a personality disorder (either comorbid or as a primary diagnosis). Patient paranoid and antisocial features were associated with therapists feeling criticized/mistreated. Patient borderline personality features were associated with therapists feeling helpless/inadequate, overwhelmed/disorganized, and special/overinvolved. Patient narcissistic features were associated with therapists feeling disengaged. Patient dependent personality features were associated with therapists feeling both parental/protective and special/overinvolved. The results were not affected by clinicians’ theoretical orientation. That is, psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral therapists showed similar emotional responses to each patient personality pattern.
The results do not appear to be an artifact of therapist theoretical orientation, and so the authors argue that patient interpersonal patterns are quite robust in evoking specific therapist countertransference. A therapist’s emotional responses that are not primarily related to the therapist’s own issues could be an important source of information about the patient’s emotional and interpersonal patterns. Therapist emotional responses can also impede the therapist’s work if the responses are not well understood. Therapists who treat those with borderline personality features may avoid their own experience of negative thoughts and feelings during a session and this may unwittingly manifest as a sudden confrontation of the patient. With patients who have narcissistic features, therapists may feel disengaged, unempathic, and emotionally mis-attuned, which could lead to an impasse or premature termination. Therapists who treat patients with dependent features may be overprotective and may avoid exploring the patient’s painful feelings.
Author email address: email@example.com
Researcher Allegiance in Psychotherapy Outcome Research
Munder, T., Brütsch, O., Leonhart, R., Gerger, H., & Barth, J. (2013). Researcher allegiance in psychotherapy outcome research: An overview of reviews. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 501-511.
Although evidence for the efficacy of psychotherapy is largely uncontested, there remains debate about whether one type of treatment is more effective than another. This debate continues despite a recent American Psychological Association (APA) resolution on the equivalent efficacy of most systematic psychotherapy approaches. There are many aspects to this debate (e.g., some treatments are more researched than others and so appear to be better; symptom focused measurements are more sensitive to change and so may favour one treatment over another; some treatments are more amenable to manualization and short term application; etc.). One element of the debate that has received a lot of attention is researcher allegiance. Researcher allegiance refers to researchers preferring one treatment approach over another, and this preference may bias comparative outcome trials in favour of the preferred therapy. Researcher allegiance is measured by assessing primary researchers’ publication history or by their self-declared preference for a particular therapy approach. There exist 30 meta analyses that assessed researcher allegiance since the 1980s. These meta analyses focused on different therapy types, client populations (adults, children), and research designs (randomized trials, naturalistic effectiveness studies). However, some meta analyses have reported contradictory results for the researcher allegiance effect. This could be due to the different foci of the meta analyses (i.e., different treatment approaches, patient populations, age groups, etc.), and also possibly due the allegiance of those conducting the meta analyses. Munder and colleagues (2013) conducted a mega analysis of these meta analyses. As the name implies, a mega analysis aggregates the findings of available meta analyses. Munder and colleagues found a significant moderate effect of researcher allegiance. Researcher allegiance was consistent across patient populations, age groups, outcome measures, type of study design, and year of publication.
As the APA resolution indicates, psychotherapy is the informed and intentional application of clinical methods and interpersonal stances derived from established psychological principles. Evidence-based practice in psychotherapy is "the integration of the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, culture and preferences". The results of this mega analysis undermine the claim of some comparative outcome studies that suggest that one evidence-based psychotherapy is more effective than another.
Author email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Client Severity, Comorbidity, and Motivation to Change
Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change: Starting in March 2013 I will review one chapter a month from the Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change in addition to reviewing psychotherapy research articles. Book chapters have more restrictive copy right rules than journal articles, so I will not provide author email addresses for these chapters. If you are interested, you can read the Handbook table of content and sections of the book on Google Books.
Bohart, A.C. & Wade, A.G. (2013). The client in psychotherapy. In M. Lambert (Ed.) Bergin and Garfield’s handbook of psychotherapy and behavior change (6th ed.), pp. 219-257. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Last month I blogged about the section in Bohart and Wade’s (2013) chapter that focused on client attachment. This month I focus on other factors like severity of distress and comorbidity, and level of motivation. Some authors argue that client factors predict 30% of variance in outcomes. That accounts for more of psychotherapy outcome than therapist effects and therapeutic techniques combined. Severity of symptoms of anxiety and depression and functional impairment caused by this distress leads to poorer client prognosis. Further, individuals with more severe symptoms need more sessions to show improvement. Some research shows that those with greater symptoms change more than those with fewer symptoms. However, even though those with higher levels of distress show the most change, they are less likely to achieve recovery in which they return to a normal level of functioning. In most cases, clients with comorbid problems are less likely to do well. For example, comorbidity for personality disorder or substance abuse negatively impact outcome. Client motivation is also related to psychotherapy outcomes. Motivation can be internal (those that arise from the individual’s intrinsic interests or values) or external (those that arise from external rewards or punishments). Generally, internal motives (i.e., greater readiness to change) are better predictors of sustained behaviour change. The stages of change model describes readiness to change as occurring in progressive stages that include: (1) precontemplation, in which clients are not internally motivated; (2) contemplation in which clients move to the next stage where they recognize a problem but are not ready to take action; and (3) preparation for action in which clients are more internally motivated to change. The next two stages of the model do not speak to motivation but to action and maintenance of change. Norcross looked at clients’ readiness to change prior to therapy and its relationship to outcome. Greater readiness to change was moderately and significantly associated with better treatment outcomes.
The results on severity and comorbidity suggest that providers and policy makers must consider increasing the number of treatment sessions to take into account clients who have greater initial severity and comorbidities, especially for those with comorbid personality disorders. Results related to motivation indicate that when client motivation to work in therapy comes from within and they show progress in their readiness to change, they are more likely to do well. Therapists need to find ways of mobilizing clients’ internal reasons for change. Motivational interviewing may be one means of doing so.
Do Psychotherapists with Different Orientations Stereotype Each Other?
Larsson, B. P., Broberg, A. G., & Kaldo, V. (2013). Do psychotherapists with different theoretical orientations stereotype or prejudge each other? Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 1-10.
A remarkable difference between the field of psychotherapy and other health care or scientific areas is that psychotherapy is organized in different and somewhat competing theoretical orientations or schools. Leading thinkers of psychotherapy integration, have emphasized how this division presents an obstacle to integration and therefore to progress within the practice and science of psychotherapy. One of these obstacles could be persistent stereotypes that psychotherapists might have about other therapists who practice from a different theoretical orientation. Social psychologists have long known that people in one group (e.g., an in-group) may misjudge or stereotype people in other groups (e.g., out-groups). Stereotypes may be negative if members of an in-group hold a positive bias toward their in-group coupled with antagonism toward members of an out-group. Do psychotherapists stereotype other therapists who practice from a different theoretical orientation? A recent study by Larsson and colleagues addressed this question. They surveyed 416 therapists divided into four ‘pure’ self-reported schools: 161 psychodynamic therapists, 93 cognitive therapists, 95 behavioural therapists, and 67 integrative/eclectic therapists. Most were women (76%), mean age was in the mid 50s, mean experience was 5 to 10 years, and they represented a variety of disciplines including psychology, psychiatry, social work, and nursing. In the first section of the survey, therapists indicated what focus they deemed most important to their own psychotherapeutic work, including: (1) therapeutic relationship, (2) patient’s thoughts, (3) patient’s feelings, (4) patient’s behaviour, or (5) connection between the patient’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Therapists then estimated how they thought psychotherapists from other orientations would rate each of these foci. In the second section of the survey, therapists completed scales about what they deemed were important aspects of psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioral, and eclectic/integrative therapy, respectively. Once again, they rated how they thought therapists from the other orientations would respond. Self-ratings of therapists within each orientation indicated the ‘true’ (i.e., prototypical) opinions of each orientation. The differences between ‘true’ opinions of the in-group versus the in-group’s ratings of therapists from other orientations (i.e. of the out-group) indicated the level of misjudgement or stereotyping. Of the 18 areas on which out-groups were rated, 11 were significantly misjudged by the in-group. Eclectic/integrative therapists were much less likely to stereotype therapists of cognitive or psychodynamic orientations, who were equally likely to stereotype others. The belief that one’s own orientation compared to others is better characterized as an applied science (a belief endorsed most often by cognitive therapists) was a statistically stronger predictor of stereotyping than orientation per se.
Some researchers argue that different orientations are more similar in their practice of psychotherapy than theory would predict. Furthermore, research about common factors in psychotherapy suggests that these factors may be more important than techniques specific to a school of psychotherapy. However, as long as there are different therapeutic orientations there will likely remain a tendency among some psychotherapists to search for differences rather than to look for similarities between their own and other orientations. This may lead to stereotyping (i.e., an inaccurate opinion about therapists of other orientations), and perhaps negative stereotyping. Psychotherapists and researchers may want to keep in mind the tendency to stereotype clinicians from other orientations when talking to or about other psychotherapists. Such stereotyping is likely an impediment to good client care and research.
Author email: email@example.com
Patient Preference for Psychological vs Pharmacologic Treatment of Mental Disorders
McHugh, K.R., Whitton, S.W., Peckham, A.D., Welge, J.A., & Otto, M.W. (2013). Patient preference for psychological vs pharmacological treatment of psychiatric disorders: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 74, 595-602.
For the most part psychotherapy and pharmacological interventions have equivalent positive effects on depression in the short term, and psychotherapy has better outcomes in the long term (see my May, 2013 blog). There is also evidence that the effects of medications for depression are overestimated (also in the May 2013 blog). Despite all of this evidence, psychotherapy use has remained the same or declined slightly over the past 10 years (currently at about 3.4% of the population), whereas medication use for depression has doubled to over 10% of the population. At the same time, guidelines for evidenced based practice emphasize incorporating patient preferences when there is an absence of evidence-based decision rules for treatment selection. Providing patients with their preferred treatment is associated with better treatment uptake and outcomes (see June, 2013 blog). McHugh and colleagues conducted a meta analysis to review the literature on patient preferences for psychological versus pharmacological interventions for mental health disorders among adults. They included studies with treatment and non-treatment seeking samples of patients with a variety of disorders. (A quick note about meta-analysis. Meta analysis is a way of statistically combining the effect sizes from a number of studies into a common metric so that an average effect size can be calculated. Meta analysis is now the standard by which studies are reviewed. Meta analysis results are much more reliable than any single study and so represent the best way to inform clinical practice from research findings). McHugh and colleagues identified 34 studies representing over 90,000 participants. Most studies were of depressive disorders and anxiety disorders. When given a preference, 75% of participants preferred psychotherapy over medication to treat their mental health problem. In treatment seeking samples, the percentage was lower at 69%, but still significantly in favour of psychotherapy. Younger people and women were more likely to prefer psychotherapy, though the findings still showed a preference for psychotherapy among older people and men. The availability of combining psychotherapy and medication did not affect the results, so that even when given the option of both psychotherapy and medication people still preferred psychotherapy alone.
In all subsamples, participants were 3 times more likely to prefer psychotherapy to medication for their mental disorder. Patient preference for treatment is a core component of evidence based mental health practice that improves outcome and reduces drop outs. Without evidence for superiority for one treatment over another, patients should be given their preference, and on average patients overwhelmingly prefer psychotherapy. To optimize outcomes in clinical settings, providers should consider patient preferences, including their preference for psychotherapy over medication.
Author email: firstname.lastname@example.org