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
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.
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.
Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Mental Health Problems
Cuijpers, P., Donker, T., Weissman, M.M., Ravitz, P., & Cristea, I.A. (2016). Interpersonal psychotherapy for mental health problems: A comprehensive meta-analysis. American Journal of Psychiatry, 173, 680-687.
Interpersonal psychotherapy is a structured therapy that was originally developed for the treatment of depression. The therapy focuses on stressful life events like grief, interpersonal disputes, life transitions, social isolation or deficits that may cause symptoms. Interpersonal psychotherapy also helps people to connect with social supports and improve their relationships. The treatment emphasizes developing a therapeutic alliance, psychoeducation, and choosing an interpersonal focus. Recently, several trials have been conducted to assess the efficacy of interpersonal psychotherapy for other mental health problems like addictions, eating and anxiety disorders. In this comprehensive meta analysis, Cuijpers and colleagues looked at all randomized controlled trials of interpersonal psychotherapy for any mental disorder. The review included 90 studies representing over 11,000 patients. Most of the studies targeted depression, but some studies used interpersonal psychotherapy to treat other disorders. The effect size of the difference between interpersonal psychotherapy and control conditions was moderately large (g = 0.60), indicating that interpersonal psychotherapy was efficacious. Interpersonal psychotherapy was as effective as other psychotherapies (g = 0.06), and as effective as antidepressant medications (g = -0.13). Combined interpersonal psychotherapy and medications was more effective than interpersonal psychotherapy alone, but the effect size of the difference was small (g = 0.24). The combination of monthly maintenance interpersonal therapy plus daily pharmacotherapy was significantly more effective in preventing relapse of depression compared to pharmacotherapy alone or interpersonal psychotherapy alone (odds ratios between 0.34 and 0.36 with confidence intervals not crossing 0). The effects of interpersonal psychotherapy for eating disorders was mixed largely because of the small number of studies and lower quality of studies. For anxiety disorders, interpersonal psychotherapy was as effective as other treatments (g = -0.16) and more effective than control conditions (g = 0.82).
Interpersonal psychotherapy showed moderate to large effects in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders, and it was as effective as other interventions. Interpersonal psychotherapy may be effective for eating disorders as well, though the evidence is less clear. Patients and providers need to have more treatment options since no one treatment is effective for all patients. The relationship emphasis of interpersonal psychotherapy provides an important alternative to medications or cognitive behavioral therapy for some patients.
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.
CBT or Antidepressant Medications as the First-Line Treatment for Severe Depression
Weitz, E.S., Hollon, S.D., Twisk, J., van Straten, A., Huibers, M.J.H., David, D., …. Cuijpers, P. (2015). Baseline depression severity as moderator of depression outcomes between cognitive behavioral therapy vs pharmacotherapy: An individual patient data meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.1516.
The American Psychiatric Association guidelines for the treatment of depression indicates that although psychotherapy is adequate for mild to moderate depression, anti-depressant medications are indicated for the treatment of severe depression in major depressive disorder. These recommendations are mainly based on the findings of the National Institute of Mental Health Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program that was published in the mid 1990s. Several authors since then have disputed this claim, but no meta-analyses have been done on the studies of head-to-head patient-level comparisons of psychotherapy vs antidepressant medications for the purpose of evaluating their relative efficacy for severity of depression. In this meta analysis, Weitz and colleagues look at medications vs psychotherapy for depression and then evaluate if initial severity of depressive symptoms helped to explain any differences. The authors looked at all studies that compared cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) against antidepressant medications for depression. They focused on CBT because it was the most often studied of the psychotherapies in this context. A systematic review turned up 24 studies, and they were able to get original patient-level data from the authors of 16 of the 24 studies. This represented over 1,700 participants with major depression. These 16 studies were no different from the 8 studies that did not provide original data. Between 17% and 54% of the 1,700 depressed participants met criteria for severe depression at pre-treatment. There were no significant differences between antidepressant medications and CBT on clinically relevant outcomes in terms of “response” (i.e., improvement) or “remission” (i.e., symptom-free). In total, 63% of patients in the antidepressant medication condition and 58% of patients in the CBT condition responded to treatment, and 51% of patients in the antidepressant medication condition and 47% of patients in the CBT condition met criteria for remission. Most importantly, the effects of CBT and antidepressant medications on response to treatment or remission did not differ based on initial severity of depressive symptoms.
Patients with severe depression were no more likely to require medication to get better than patients with less severe depression. This meta analysis that included the majority of studies that exist on the topic found no evidence to support the guidelines that severe depression should be treated with antidepressant medications over psychotherapy. The authors conclude that CBT may also be a first-line treatment for severe depression.