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
No Added Value to Adding Antidepressants to Psychotherapy
Karyotaki, E., Smit, Y., Henningsen, H., Huibers, M.J.H., Robays, J., de Beurs, D., & Cuijpers, P. (2016). Combining pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy or monotherapy for major depression? A meta-analysis on the long-term effects. Journal of Affective Disorders, 194, 144-152.
Depression is a highly prevalent disorder and is expected to become the second largest cause of disability by 2020. Part of the reason for this high level of burden is that depression tends to be a recurrent disorder with high rates of mortality and morbidity. The post-treatment effects of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy for treating mild to moderate depression are comparable, and combining the two interventions appears to result in better outcomes. Treatment guidelines recommend pharmacotherapy for at least six months to prevent relapse of depressive symptoms. But to what extent does combined antidepressants with psychotherapy result in a different response than pharmacotherapy or psychotherapy alone in the longer term? The meta analysis by Karotaki and colleagues was conducted to address this question. They defined psychotherapy to include any psychological intervention between a therapist and patient that was verbal in nature, and that included in-person, internet-based, telephone, or bibliotherapy components. Types of psychotherapy included CBT, interpersonal, dynamic, and problem solving therapy. Only studies with outcomes at six months or longer (up to 48 months) after the start of treatment were included. The meta analysis included 23 studies with a total of 2164 patients with major depression who receive combined therapy in at least one arm of the study. Antidepressants included SSRIs, SNRIs, and tricyclic medications. In the acute phase treatment (i.e., in studies of treatment during the occurrence of depressive symptoms), combining antidepressants with psychotherapy was more effective than antidepressants alone. But combined treatment was not more effect than psychotherapy alone at six months or longer after the start of treatment. In maintenance treatment (i.e., in studies to prevent relapse of depression) psychotherapy with antidepressants was more effective that pharmacotherapy alone. Type of psychotherapy or medication did not affect any of the results.
The meta analysis suggests that in the treatment of patients who currently have depressive symptoms (acute phase) psychotherapy alone is as effective in the long run as combining psychotherapy with antidepressants. However combination treatment is more effective that antidepressants alone, presumably because of the added value of psychotherapy. To prevent relapse (maintenance phase), combined treatment of pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy was more effective than antidepressants alone. Psychotherapy may be a viable alternative to combined treatment with medications for treatment of current active depressive symptoms. Psychotherapy often results in patients improving their interpersonal skills and coping mechanisms which they can then use to sustain their improvements in the longer term.
Psychotherapy That is Culturally Congruent for Chinese Clients
Xu, H. & Tracey, T.J.G. (2016). Cultural congruence with psychotherapy efficacy: A network meta-analytic examination in China. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 63, 359-365.
Cultural congruence refers to providing psychotherapy that is consistent with the client’s cultural context in its description of the etiology of symptoms and in its therapeutic procedures. In general, congruence of treatments with clients’ expectation, preferences, and beliefs is related to greater psychotherapy efficacy. And specifically identifying culturally appropriate or adapted treatments is important because this is often related to better therapy outcomes for ethnic and racial minorities. Psychotherapy as a professional practice developed recently in China. Cognitive-behavioral, existential-humanistic, and psychodynamic therapies have taken their place along side indigenous therapies including Naikan therapy, Taoism cognitive therapy, and Morita therapy. Historically in China mental health problems were seen as a disturbance in ying-yang or a sin committed in a previous life. Healing practices included engaging in altruism or religious practices to achieve redemption. Xu and Tracey argue that Chinese culture strongly endorses an experiential and subjective orientation and is less aligned with analytic and objective orientations. Using this understanding, the authors expected that experiential-humanistic and indigenous therapies would be more congruent and therefore more effective than cognitive-behavioral education or psychodynamic therapy in alleviating mental health issues. In this meta analysis, Xu and Tracey reported on 235 studies conducted in China that compared the various treatments to a control condition or to each other. There were too few studies of psychodynamic therapy, so it was not included in the analyses. All treatments were effective compared to a control condition with large effect sizes (g = .85 to 1.18). However, whereas experiential-humanistic and indigenous therapies were equally effective, each was significantly more effective (g = .34) than cognitive-behavioral psychoeducation.
The three modalities, experiential-humanistic, indigenous, and cognitive-behavioral psychoeducation were effective. However the two therapies that were more experiential and subjective in nature were more effective to reduce Chinese clients’ symptoms. When working with Chinese clients, therapists may achieve better outcomes if they work on more experiential components (e.g., feelings and therapeutic relationship) and focus on subjective experiences (e.g., introspection and reflection). The results of the meta analysis suggest that when working with Chinese clients interpersonal processes and emotions should be the clinical focus and take priority over dysfunctional cognitions and psychoeducation.
Direct Psychological Interventions Reduce Suicide and Suicide Attempts
Meerwijk, E.L., Parekh, A., Oquendo, M.A., Allen, I.E., Franck, L.S., & Lee, K.A. (2016). Direct versus indirect psychosocial and behavioural interventions to prevent suicide and suicide attempts: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Psychiatry.
The World Health Organization reports that more than 800,000 people die of suicide per year around the world. However suicide prevention efforts over the past decade have fallen short of targets. In fact, the prevalence rates of suicide in the US have risen steadily since 2000 to about 1.3% of the population in 2014. Many who kill themselves have a mental disorder like depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, psychoses, or personality disorders. Best practices suggest that directly addressing suicidal thoughts and behaviors during treatment, rather than only addressing symptoms like depression and hopelessness, are most effective in reducing suicide. However, there are no meta analyses of randomized controlled trials that specifically assess the relative utility of direct versus indirect psychological interventions. In their meta analysis, Meerwijk and colleagues looked at psychosocial interventions aimed to prevent suicide or to treat mental illness associated with suicide. They included 31 studies representing over 13,000 participants. Interventions included cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), case management, social skills training, and supportive telephone calls. Depending on the target problem, the interventions either directly addressed suicidal behavior or they indirectly addressed suicidal behavior. Mean duration of treatment was over 11 months. Studies that looked at direct or indirect interventions were each compared to control groups that received some form of usual care in the community, or psychiatric management, or general practitioner care. Individuals who received usual care were 1.5 times more likely to die of or attempt suicide compared to those receiving direct or indirect psychological interventions. There was a 35% lower odds of suicide and attempts with direct interventions compared to usual care; and an 18% lower odds of suicide and attempts with indirect interventions compared to usual care. The difference between the effectiveness of direct versus indirect interventions was large (d = .77), suggesting that direct interventions were more effective than indirect interventions at reducing suicide and suicide attempts.
This is the largest meta analysis of its kind. Most direct interventions to prevent suicide and suicidal behaviors were based on CBT and DBT. Indirectly addressing suicide by focusing on depressive symptoms, anxiety, and hopelessness was somewhat effective compared to usual care. However, direct interventions that included talking about the patient’s suicidal thoughts and behaviors and how best to cope were most effective.
Psychotherapists Matter When Evaluating Treatment Outcomes
Owen, J., Drinane, J. M., Idigo, K. C., & Valentine, J. C. (2015). Psychotherapist effects in meta-analyses: How accurate are treatment effects? Psychotherapy, 52(3), 321-328.
One of the ongoing debates in the psychotherapy research literature has to do with the relative efficacy of psychotherapies. Is psychotherapy brand A (CBT, for example) more effective than psychotherapy brand B (psychodynamic therapy, for example)? The most common way to test this question is with randomized controlled trials (RCTs), in which clients are randomly assigned to treatment condition (brand A or B). This study design controls for systematic bias in the results that may be caused by differences between clients. But what about therapists? We know for example that therapist effects (i.e., differences between therapists) account for approximately 5% to 10% of client outcomes. Therapist effects are often larger than the effect of the empirically supported treatment that is being offered. Yet it is almost unheard of for therapists to be randomized to treatments, so therapist effects are not controlled in most psychotherapy trials. As a result the effects of the differences between therapists get statistically rolled into the treatment effects. As Owen and colleagues point out, the impact of not controlling for therapist effects is that some differences between treatments in an RCT will appear statistically significant when in fact they are not. One can control for the effect of therapist differences, thus providing a more accurate estimate of treatment effects, but this is rarely done in published RCTs. So, when these RCTs are summarized in a meta analysis, the meta analysis results are also affected by ignoring therapist effects. In their study, Owen colleagues did something very clever. They took data from 17 recent meta analyses of RCTs that found differences between two interventions. These included meta analyses of studies comparing: CBT vs alternative treatments, bona fide treatments vs non-bona fide treatments, culturally adapted treatments vs those that were not adapted, etc. There are many other meta analyses that show no differences between treatments, but the authors wanted to focus specifically on the 17 that did show differences. Owen and colleagues statistically estimated what would happen to the original study findings of significant differences between treatments if therapist effects on patient outcomes were controlled. They controlled for three different sizes of therapist effects that accounted for: 5% (small), 10% (medium), or 20% (large) of patient outcomes. Even small therapist effects (5%) reduced the number of significant differences between treatments from 100% to 80%. When psychotherapist effects were estimated to be medium (10% - which is the best estimate based on research), the number of significant differences between treatments dropped to 65%. For large therapist effects (20%), the number of significant treatment differences was only 35%.
I have argued previously that the psychotherapist matters. Placing more time and effort in developing good reflective practice based on quality information and developing therapist skills like empathy, progress monitoring, and identifying and repairing alliance ruptures will result in better patient outcomes. As Owen and colleagues note, when reading an RCT that claims to find significant differences between psychotherapies, ask yourself if they took into account the effects of differences between therapists.
Does a Therapist’s Multicultural Competence Affect Patient Outcomes?
Tao, K. W., Owen, J., Pace, B. T., & Imel, Z. E. (2015). A meta-analysis of multicultural competencies and psychotherapy process and outcome. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 62(3), 337-350.
Cultural factors shape health-related beliefs, behaviors and values. For decades, many have argued that therapist multicultural competence shapes the therapy process and affects patient outcomes. Some therapists have poorer outcomes with patients of racial/ethnic minorities compared to White patients. Multicultural competence refers to the ability to work effectively across many groups including minority groups. In 2008, an American Psychological Association Task Force detailed recommendations for multicultural competencies. Multiculturally competent providers are those who: expand their knowledge of their client’s background, use culturally relevant interventions, and gain awareness of their own assumptions and the impact of these on their therapeutic work. In this meta analysis, Tao and colleagues aimed to assess the relationship between multicultural competence in therapists with therapy processes and client outcomes. They reviewed 18 studies that included over 1600 clients, the vast majority of whom identified as a racial/ethnic minority. Therapist multicultural competence was assessed by client self report. Therapist multicultural competence was highly correlated with therapy processes like: therapeutic alliance (r = .61), client satisfaction (r = .72), and session depth (r = .58). The association between therapist multicultural competence and client symptom outcomes were moderate in size but significant (r = .29). A separate analysis showed that the relationship between multicultural competence and therapy process variables (alliance, satisfaction, depth) were significantly larger that associations with client outcomes.
Therapists’ abilities to integrate aspects of their client’s cultural narrative into their interventions significantly accounted for difference in outcomes. In other words, clients who perceived their therapist as more culturally sensitive had better outcomes. This was likely related to more positive therapeutic processes (i.e., alliance, satisfaction, session depth) between clients and therapist dyads, within which clients perceived the therapist as multiculturally sensitive. A provider’s ability to recognize how their own personal backgrounds influence their own and clients’ behaviors will result in better therapy processes and improved client outcomes.
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Psychological Treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Bradley, R., Greene, J., Russ, E., Dutra, L., & Westen, D. (2005). A multidimensional meta-analysis of psychotherapy for PTSD. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162, 214–227.
The psychotherapy research literature on treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has focused on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT, with exposure and/or cognitive restructuring) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Exposure therapy involves confronting memories of the trauma or cues related to the traumatic event. Other CBT skills include developing skills for anxiety management or challenging distorted cognitions. In EMDR the patient is asked to develop an image of the traumatic event while tracking a bilateral stimulus. Most studies demonstrate the effectiveness of CBT for PTSD in the short term. However, many studies have excluded patients with comorbid conditions. For example, patients with PTSD often also have significant other symptoms like depression, substance abuse, other anxiety disorders, and personality disorders. In this meta analysis, Bradley and colleagues were interested in documenting the overall efficacy of psychological treatments for PTSD. They also wanted to report on any evidence on the long term efficacy of treatments for PTSD, and on evidence of the effects of excluding patients with comorbid disorders. Bradley and colleagues included randomized controlled trials published between 1980 and 2003 (i.e., 26 studies representing 1,535 patients). Also, they looked at outcomes defined in a few ways: change in symptoms as documented by the effect size, proportion of patients no longer meeting diagnostic criteria for PTSD (but who may have residual symptoms), and proportion whose symptoms improved significantly. Across all treatments, the average pre to post effect size was large (d = 1.43), and comparisons to control conditions were also large (d = .83). The results suggested that psychotherapy produced substantial effects for PTSD. Differences between types of therapy (CBT, CBT with exposure, EMDR) were negligible. Fifty six percent of patients no longer met criteria for PTSD, and 65% showed improved symptoms. At follow ups, 62% no longer met diagnostic criteria for PTSD and 32% were deemed improved, but the number of studies with follow up data were small (k = 10) and so the results could be unreliable. Of those who started treatment, 78.9% completed the therapy. Of those who were assessed, 30% were excluded because of suicide risk, drug or alcohol abuse, or “other serious comorbidity”.
Treatment guidelines from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies list a number of effective treatments for PTSD. The evidence for efficacy is strongest at post treatment, and more research is necessary to demonstrate efficacy in the longer term. There is currently little evidence that any one treatment approach is more effective than another, and some researchers are debating whether specific interventions like exposure is necessary to treat PTSD. Bradley and colleagues argue that we need more research on alternative treatments for PTSD and research on patients with multiple symptoms and comorbidities.
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