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 CBT, negative effects of psychological interventions, and what people want from therapy.
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 Effective for Treating Personality Disorders?
Keefe, J. R., McMain, S. F., McCarthy, K. S., Zilcha-Mano, S., Dinger, U., Sahin, Z., Graham, K., & Barber, J. P. (2019, December 5). A meta-analysis of psychodynamic treatments for borderline and Cluster C personality disorders. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. Advance online publication.
Personality disorders are common mental conditions affecting between 6.1% and 9.1% of the population. Having a comorbid personality disorder predicts a number of negative outcomes from psychotherapy including lower remission rates, greater resistance to therapy, and greater relapse after therapy. Psychodynamic therapies are one of two classes of therapy that have been repeatedly tested in clinical trials for personality disorders (the other being cognitive-behavioral therapies). Psychodynamic therapies aim to help patients improve their personality functioning, including attachment, mentalization, and maturity of defense mechanisms. Dynamic therapies for personality disorders include transference-focused therapy, affect-phobia therapy, mentalization based treatment, and good psychiatric management. In this meta-analysis, Keefe and colleagues systematically assessed whether psychodynamic therapy was as effective as other active treatments and more effective than no treatment. They also evaluated the quality of the studies. They found 16 randomized controlled studies of over 1100 patients that directly compared psychodynamic therapy to another therapy or to a control condition. Outcomes included personality disorder symptoms, suicidality, general symptoms, and drop-out rates. Overall, psychodynamic therapy was as effective as other therapies when it came to all of these outcomes, and the drop-out rates were equivalent. Psychodynamic therapy was more effective than no treatment for personality disorder symptoms (g = 0.63; 95% CI [0.87, 0.41], SE = 0.08, p = .002), suicidality (g = 0.67; 95% CI [1.13, 0.20], SE = 0.15, p = .020), and general symptoms (g = 0.38;95% CI [0.68, 0.08], SE = 0.13, p = .019). Average study quality was high, suggesting that one could be confident in the overall findings of this meta analysis.
For all outcomes, psychodynamic therapies were as effective as other active treatments and more effective than no-treatment controls for borderline personality disorder and for mixed Cluster C disorders (dependent, avoidant, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders). The authors concluded that psychodynamic therapies are effective in treating personality disorders like borderline personality disorder and those with Cluster C personality disorders.
Is the Therapeutic Alliance Diminished by Videoconferencing Psychotherapy?
Norwood, C., Moghaddam, N.G., Malins, S., & Sabin-Farrell, R. (2018). Working alliance and outcome effectiveness in videoconferencing psychotherapy: A systematic review and noninferiority meta‐analysis. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 25, 797-808.
The working alliance is the collaboration between client and therapist on the tasks and goals of therapy, and it also includes the emotional bond. The alliance is the most researched concept in psychotherapy, and it is reliably related to good client outcomes. However, the alliance has been rarely studied in the context of videoconferencing psychotherapy (VCP). Delivering psychotherapy remotely was already gaining popularity prior to COVID-19 because of its potential to improve access to mental health care especially for people who live in remote areas. Some argue that face to face therapy might result in a higher therapeutic alliance because of the rich interpersonal cues, like eye contact and body posture that may facilitate collaboration and the bond. There is emerging evidence that VCP can be effective and that it may have comparable outcomes to face-to-face therapy. But what about the working alliance – does it develop in VCP similarly to face to face therapy? In this meta-analysis, Norwood and colleagues conducted a systematic review of the existing research on the working alliance in VCP. They found only 4 direct comparison randomized controlled studies on the topic, and on average VCP resulted in a lower working alliance compared to face to face therapy, but the difference was not statistically significant (n = 4; SMD = -0.30; 95% CI: -0.67, 0.07; p = 0.11). People who received treatment via VCP had similar levels of symptom reduction compared to those who received face to face therapy (n = 4; SMD = −0.03; 95% CI [−0.45, 0.40], p = 0.90).
With only four direct comparison randomized trials to draw from, the results of this meta-analysis remained ambiguous with regard to the therapeutic alliance. Although the difference between VCP and face to face therapy was not statistically significant, it was not ignorable – an effect size of SMD = -0.30 suggests a small advantage for face to face therapy when it comes to the alliance. However, symptom outcomes were comparable between face to face and VCP. The results suggest that therapists who use VCP during a pandemic, must pay particular attention to developing and maintaining a therapeutic alliance by collaboratively agreeing on goals and tasks of therapy, and by focusing on establishing an affective bond with patients despite the limited nonverbal cues available with online psychotherapy.
Effectiveness and Adherence of Telephone-Administered Psychotherapy
Effectiveness and Adherence of Telephone-Administered Psychotherapy
Castro, A., Gili, M., Ricci-Cagello, I., Roca, M., Gilbody, S., Perez-Ara, A., Segui, A., & McMillan, D. (2020). Effectiveness and adherence of telephone-administered psychotherapy for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 260, 514-526.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in psychotherapy providers moving to online and telephone-delivered interventions. But questions remain about the efficacy of delivering psychotherapy in these formats to patients with depression. Depression is highly prevalent as it affects about 320 million people around the world and causes serious disability and lowered quality of life. Psychotherapy is effective in treating depression, however there are significant barriers to people accessing face-to-face psychotherapy including cost, stigma, distance, and disability. Telephone-delivered psychotherapy may minimize these barriers. One potential question that may arise is whether patients will adhere to telephone-delivered psychotherapy. That is, will patients find telephone sessions acceptable as indicted by the rate of starting therapy and of attending sessions? In this systematic review and meta-analysis, Castro and colleagues evaluated whether telephone-delivered psychotherapy for depression is as effective as other active treatments and more effective than no-treatment. The authors also examined the level of adherence/acceptability to telephone administered treatment, determined by the percent of scheduled sessions actually attended by a patient. The sample of studies was small such the authors only found a total of 11 direct comparison randomized controlled trials. These trials represented almost 1400 patients. The only treatment tested in these trials were CBT-oriented. Four studies found that telephone-delivered therapy produced significantly larger reductions in depressive symptoms when compared to no treatment controls (mean SMD = -0.48; 95% CI: -0.82 to -0.14). In four other studies telephone-administered therapy was just as effective as an active control (e.g., medication or self-help). The weighted average percentage of scheduled telephone sessions that patients attended was 73%, and the percent of patients who started telephone therapy after the initial referral was about 90%. These percentages indicating adherence and acceptability are similar to findings reported from individual psychotherapy studies.
There are few randomized controlled trials that assess the efficacy of telephone-administered psychotherapy, and these studies were limited to only one type of intervention. However, the findings from this meta-analysis suggested that telephone-delivered psychotherapy may be efficacious and as effective as some other active treatments. Further, telephone therapy may be acceptable to patients in that they start and attend sessions at a rate similar to face-to-face therapy. These preliminary findings provide clinicians who provide telephone psychotherapy during this period of physical distancing due to COVID-19 with some evidence for the utility of telephone delivered treatment.
Drop-out From Using Smart Phone Apps for Depression is High
Torous, J., Lipschitz, J., Ng, M., & Firth, J. (2020). Dropout rates in clinical trials of smartphone apps for depressive symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 263, 413-419.
Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide, and yet more than 50% of people do not have access to adequate therapy. One solution might be to provide individuals with smartphone apps to help screen, monitor, or provide treatment. Smart phones are ubiquitous, and depression apps are one of the most downloaded categories of apps by the public. Research seems to suggest that smartphone apps provide some positive results for members of the public, but these findings are compromised by the high drop-out rates reported in the primary studies. Further, one study found that although many people download the apps, only about 4% actually use them. Whereas smartphone apps appear attractive to the consumer, very few actually make use of and therefore benefit from them. In this systematic review, Torous and colleagues conduct a meta-analysis of drop-out rates from studies that test the use of smart phone apps. They found 18 independent studies representing data from 3,336 participants who received a psychological intervention for depression via a cell phone app, or who were in a placebo control condition. A total of 22 different apps were tested in the studies. Initially, the pooled drop-out rate from the depression app treatment arms appeared to be about 26.2% (95% C.I.=11.34% to 46.75%), which would be in line with average drop-out rates from randomized controlled trials of face to face psychotherapy. But, the authors noted two things. First, the drop-out rate from the placebo control conditions (14.2%; 95% C.I. = 8.236 to 23.406) was almost half as high as that found for the apps. Second, through some sophisticated statistical analyses, they found evidence of “publication bias” in this research area. This means that a number of studies testing these apps likely were completed but never published (i.e., these might be studies funded by an app manufacturer that demonstrated negative findings or high drop-out rates). When the authors statistically adjusted for publication bias, they found that the actual drop-out rate from the apps was about 47.8%. That is, almost half of users did not complete or dropped out of the studies. There were no differences in drop-out between types of interventions (CBT, mindfulness, or others), and studies with larger sample sizes (i.e., better quality studies) had higher drop-out rates.
Although smartphone apps appear really attractive and may be potentially useful as an adjunct to face to face psychotherapy for depression, their utility is plagued by extremely low usage rates (4%) and high drop-out rates from studies (almost 50%). Leading writers and researchers define psychotherapy as primarily a healing relationship that also includes specific interventions. The key ingredient is the human relationship. Depressed or otherwise troubled individuals cannot (because of feeling demoralized) or will not interact with a machine for healing. One way or another, when it comes to smartphone apps, depressed individuals are voting with their feet. Given these findings, health care providers should consider the ethics of giving a depressed individual only e-therapy as the primary mode of treatment.
Psychotherapy, Pharmacotherapy, and their Combination for Adult Depression
Cuijpers, P., Noma, H., Karyotaki, E., Vinkers, C.H., Cipriani, A., & Furukawa, T.A. (2020). A network meta‐analysis of the effects of psychotherapies, pharmacotherapies and their combination in the treatment of adult depression. World Psychiatry, 19, 92-107.
Mental disorders represent a significant health burden worldwide, with over 350 million people affected. Depression is the second leading cause of disease burden. There is ample evidence that psychotherapies and pharmacotherapies are effective in the treatment of depression. There is also evidence for the efficacy of different types of psychotherapy (CBT, IPT, PDT), and for different types of antidepressant medications. Some research suggests that combining psychotherapy and medications is better than either intervention alone, but the evidence is inconclusive. Existing meta analyses only compare two existing treatments directly to each other at a time: psychotherapy vs medications, psychotherapy vs combined treatments, medications vs combined treatments. In this meta-analysis, Cuijpers and colleagues use a method called “network meta-analysis” to study the relative impact of medications, psychotherapy, or their combination. Network meta-analysis is controversial because it relies on indirect comparisons to estimate effects. For example, let’s say one study compared medications (A) to psychotherapy (B), and another study compared medication (A) to combination treatment (C), then a network meta-analysis would estimate the effects of psychotherapy vs combination treatment by using the transitive principle (if A = B, and B = C, then A = C). This logic relies on everything being equivalent across studies. However, in treatment trials one cannot assume that the different studies comparing A, B, and C are equivalent in terms of quality and bias (in fact, we know they are not). In any case, Cuijpers and colleagues found that combined treatment was superior to either psychotherapy alone or pharmacotherapy alone in terms of standardized effect sizes (0.30, 95% CI: 0.14-0.45 and 0.33, 95% CI: 0.20-0.47). No significant difference was found between psychotherapy alone and pharmacotherapy alone (0.04, 95% CI: –0.09 to 0.16). Interestingly, acceptability (defined as lower patient drop-out rate and better patient adherence to the treatment) was significantly better for combined treatment compared with pharmacotherapy (RR=1.23, 95% CI:
1.05-1.45), as well as for psychotherapy compared with pharmacotherapy (RR=1.17, 95% CI: 1.02-1.32). In other words, pharmacotherapy alone was less acceptable to patients than another treatment approach that included psychotherapy.
This network meta-analysis by a renowned researcher and in a prestigious journal adds to the controversy around the relative efficacy of psychotherapy vs medications vs their combination. What is clear is that patients find medication alone to be less acceptable as a treatment option, and previous research shows that patients are 4 times more likely to prefer psychotherapy over medications. Unfortunately, most people with depression receive medications without psychotherapy.
Negative Effects of Psychotherapy
Negative Effects of Psychotherapy
Cuijpers, P., Reijnders, M., Karyotaki, E., de Wit, L., & Ebert, D.D. (2018). Negative effects of psychotherapy for adult depression: A meta-analysis of deterioration rates. Journal of Affective Disorders, 239, 138-145.
Several types of psychotherapy are effective to treat depression, and there appears to be very little difference among the treatments in term of their effectiveness. Despite the documented effectiveness of psychotherapies to treat depression, there is also a growing interest in the clinical and research community about negative effects. Negative effects refer to the deterioration or worsening of depressive symptoms during treatment. Some may also refer to drop-out or non-response as a negative effect because these events are demoralizing and may prevent a patient from seeking more adequate care. Some researchers estimated that 5% to 10% of patients deteriorate during therapy. Deteriorations may not be due solely to the therapy itself, but instead may reflect the natural course of depression. In this meta-analysis, Cuijpers and colleagues examined studies in which a psychotherapy for depression was compared to a control condition in which patients did not receive an active treatment. In such studies, one might expect the control condition to represent what would happen in terms of symptoms if the patient received no treatment. Despite over 100 randomized controlled trials of a psychotherapy versus a non-active treatment control condition for depression, only 18 studies reported enough information to estimate negative effects. There was a median deterioration rate in the psychotherapy groups of about 4%, whereas the risk of deterioration in the control groups was about 11%. There were no differences in deterioration rates among types of psychotherapy (CBT vs others), treatment format (group vs individual), or type of control group (wait-list vs care as usual).
Only 6.2% of research studies reported enough information to estimate negative effects, making it difficult to get a good estimate that represents all studies and patients. Nevertheless, receiving psychotherapy reduced deterioration rates by more than 61% compared to untreated control conditions, suggesting that psychotherapy can help some patients who might get worse with no treatment. Therapists should work to recognize and evaluate deterioration rates in therapy because they do occur for an important minority of patients. Some have suggested ongoing progress monitoring as a means of reducing the number of patients who might get worse during psychotherapy.