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
Therapist Genuineness and Patient Outcomes
Kolden, G.G., Austin, S.A., Wang, C-C., Chang, Y., & Klein, M. (2018). Congurence/genuineness: A meta-analysis. Psychotherapy, 55, 424-433.
More than 60 years ago Carl Rogers first described congruence or genuineness in the psychotherapy relationship as one of the necessary conditions for patients to improve. Congruence has two components. The intrapersonal component refers to mindful genuineness, personal awareness, and authenticity in relationships. The interpersonal component refers to the capacity to express ones’ internal experiences to another person. Rogers argued that patients often experience incongruence with regard to their internal states (they may avoid or fear the experience or expression of what they think or feel). He also stated that therapists’ congruence in the relationship with a patient is a pre-requisite for positive regard and empathy toward the patient. In this meta-analysis, Kolden and colleagues do a systematic review of the relationship between therapist congruence and patient outcomes. The review included 21 studies representing 1,192 patients. The weighted effect size for congruence and psychotherapy outcome was r = .23 (95% CI: .13, .32), representing on average a moderately large effect. Theoretical orientation did not affect the congruence – outcome association. However older therapists with more experience showed a significantly stronger congruence – outcome relationship. Also, therapy with younger patients was associated with a larger congruence – outcome relationship.
Research continues to support fundamental therapeutic factors defined by Rogers many decades ago. In this case, congruence/genuineness (or the therapist’s ability to know their internal experience and communicate it respectfully to patients) is positively related to patient outcomes. This is especially true for older therapists (who may have a greater capacity for genuineness) and for younger patients – (for whom therapist genuineness may be particularly important). Patients who may have a greater need for and expectation of genuineness are likely to develop a stronger therapeutic alliance with a highly congruent therapist. Patients in a congruent therapeutic relationship learn that it is a safe space, that they matter as a person, and that the therapist is committed and accepting. All of which are precursors to a successful therapy.
Client Stage of Change Predicts Their Outcomes in Psychotherapy
Client Stage of Change Predicts Their Outcomes in Psychotherapy
Krebs, P., Norcross, J.C., Nicholson, J.M., & Prochaska, J.O. (2018). Stages of change and psychotherapy outcomes: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 74, 1964-1979.
Next to the therapeutic alliance, client stage of change is one of the most researched concepts in psychotherapy. The theory posits that clients come for treatment with varying levels of motivation, preparation, and capacity for behavior change. And their overall readiness for change influences the process and outcome of the psychotherapy they receive. Researchers have identified five stages that clients may go through during the change process, and they identified most effective therapist stances to help clients move from one stage to the next. Precontemplation is the stage in which the client has no intention of changing, and they may have been coerced into coming to therapy. During this stage therapists may help the client increase their awareness of the advantages of changing and the costs of not changing. Contemplation is the stage in which the client is aware that there is a problem, but has not yet made a commitment to take action. During this stage the client may face the sadness or anxiety related to letting go of behaviors that no longer work. Therapists may help a client to re-evaluate themselves should they change their behaviors. Preparation is a stage in which the individual is fully intending to take action, and they may make small behavioral changes. Therapists may help clients in this stage to act on their belief that they have the ability to change their behavior. Action is the stage in which clients modify their behaviors or environment to overcome their problems. Therapists may help clients at this stage by ensuring clients perceive adequate reinforcements for their efforts and resist the tendency to avoid problematic situations or feelings. Finally, the maintenance stage is the point at which clients have made desirable changes and now work to prevent relapse and consolidate gains. Therapists may help individuals during the maintenance phase to be prepared for or to avoid situations that may induce relapse. A key aspect of therapist stances related to client stages of change is exemplified by the process of motivational interviewing, in which the therapist works with the client’s resistance rather than taking a confrontational stance. In this meta-analysis, Krebs and colleagues systematically reviewed the literature on stages of change and summarize 76 studies with over 21,000 clients. The association between stage of change and client outcome was significant and moderate in effect size (d = 0.41; 95% CI: 0.34, 0.48). That is the stage of change at which the client starts has a measurable impact on their outcomes, with pre-contemplation being related to poorest outcomes, and action being related to best outcomes. These results were consistent across theoretical orientations. In a second meta-analysis, the authors found that tailored interventions to move clients to more advanced stages of change were significantly related to better outcomes, though the effects were small (d = 0.18; 95% CI: 0.16, 0.20).
The stage of change theory is transtheoretical – that is, it operates across most therapeutic situations and clients. The findings of this meta-analysis indicate that therapists who know the client’s stage of change and who act accordingly will improve their client’s outcomes. Many therapists tend to believe that their clients are at the action stage, but this may not be the case. Treating someone who is contemplating change as if they are ready to make changes may be counter-therapeutic as it represents a mismatch of goals. Hence, therapists should work with clients to set realistic goals for therapy, and therapists should keep in mind that a patient who is not ready to change will not likely change if confronted. The best strategy may be to discuss with the client the risks and benefits of their behaviors, and help them make a decision of how or if to move forward with therapy.
Psychotherapy or Pharmacology for the Treatment of PTSD
Merz, J., Schwarzer, G., & Gerger, H. (2019). Comparative efficacy and acceptability of pharmacological, psychotherapeutic, and combination treatments in adults with posttraumatic stress disorder: A network meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry, 76, 904-91.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a highly debilitating disorder characterized by re-experiencing trauma, avoidance of situations related to the trauma, negative mood and cognitions, and hyperarousal. The lifetime prevalence of PTSD in the population is about 8%, and PTSD is associated with a great deal of medical problems, and social and economic burden. Difference between a variety of psychological treatment approaches for PTSD are small and not statistically significant. Some treatment guidelines tend to recommend both psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy to treat PTSD, but other guidelines indicate only psychotherapy as the first-line treatment. Merz and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis to examine comparative outcomes and acceptability of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy and their combination in adults with PTSD. The authors focused on randomized controlled trials because these designs tend to produce the most reliable evidence. The authors identified 12 published studies with a total of 922 participants. Six of the studies included data on long term outcomes. The meta-analytic procedures that the authors used in this study included network meta-analyses (which some have argued may produce unreliable results) and direct comparison meta-analysis (which is more reliable, but resulted in fewer studies being included here). I report in this blog only results that were consistent between the network and direct comparison analyses. Pharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatments and their combinations were not significantly different in their effectiveness immediately post-treatment. However, at long-term follow-up psychotherapy was significantly more beneficial than pharmacotherapy (SMD, −0.63; 95% CI, −1.18 to −0.09). Combined psychotherapy plus pharmacotherapy was not significantly more effective that pharmacotherapy alone (SMD, −1.02; 95% CI, −2.77 to 0.72), and combined treatment was not more effective that psychotherapy alone (SMD, 0.06; 95% CI, −0.31 to 0.42). There were also no statistically significant differences between psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, or their combination in the acceptability of treatments to participants as defined by differing rates of dropping out from the studies.
This meta-analysis of a small number of studies suggests that psychotherapy produces better long-term outcomes than pharmacotherapy for PTSD. There is also a suggestion that combining psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy does not improve outcomes compared to either treatment alone. This research area seems to be new and not well developed, but so far, the results seem to favor psychotherapy for longer term outcomes. These findings are similar to those from a larger meta-analysis for depression. In that study, the authors suggested that the long-term benefit of psychotherapy was due to participants learning coping and interpersonal skills that were not gained from receiving pharmacological intervention alone.
Therapeutic Alliance and Outcomes in Couple and Family Therapy
Friedlander, M. L., Escudero, V., Welmers-van de Poll, M. J., & Heatherington, L. (2018). Meta-analysis of the alliance–outcome relation in couple and family therapy. Psychotherapy, 55(4), 356-371.
In individual psychotherapy the therapist’s tasks include to develop an alliance with one patient. Goals and tasks of therapy need to be collaboratively negotiated, and therapists need to develop an emotional bond with the patient. The alliance also has to be nurtured continuously throughout treatment. This process is more complicated in couple and family therapy. Only in couple and family therapy (and in group therapy) does a therapist have to develop an alliance with multiple people simultaneously. The challenge is greater when family members are in conflict, or when the therapist’s alliance is stronger with one member than another. Such “split” alliances can be problematic especially when family members view their experiences of the therapist differently. To complicate things more, therapists have to be aware of the alliance within the family or couple system. That is, are the family members allied with each other – do they agree on therapy goals and tasks, and are they able to maintain an emotional connection to each other? In addition, just as therapeutic alliance ruptures can occur in individual therapy, so can they occur in couple and family therapy. An alliance rupture may occur when a there is a “split” alliance or when a patient responds to the therapist or other family members with confrontation or withdrawal behaviors. In this meta-analysis of therapeutic alliance in couple and family therapy, Friedlander and colleagues included 48 studies with a total of 2,568 families and 1,545 couples. The correlation between quality of the alliance and outcome was significant (r = .297, 95% CI [0.223, 0.351], p < .001), indicating that a stronger alliance was related to better outcomes. There was some evidence of publication bias suggesting that this estimate may be over-inflated, but even after adjusting for publication bias the correlation was still significant. The correlation between split alliances and outcome was also significant (r = .316, 95% CI [0.157, 0.458], p < .001), indicating that more split alliances contributed to poorer outcomes. The correlations were similar in strength both in couple and in family therapy, and the alliance was important in all therapeutic orientations. However, correlations were larger when the targeted child in the family was younger, and when families were seeking help and not mandated.
Like in individual therapy, the therapeutic alliance in couple and family therapy is important to improve the outcomes of patients. Regardless of therapeutic orientation, therapists must spend time and effort developing therapeutic alliances with each member of the system, and must try to maintain relatively equal alliances with each family member to avoid splits in the alliance. Therapists should be particularly aware of any confrontation and withdrawal behaviors towards the therapist or within the family or couple as these may indicate an alliance rupture. In such instances, therapists should emphasize shared goals and feelings, validate the common struggle among family members, and focus on the emotional bond with the disaffected patient. Each person’s alliance matters, and family member alliances are not interchangeable. Assessing the alliance with each member throughout therapy will identify potential problems and facilitate better outcomes.
Therapeutic Alliance in Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy
Karver, M. S., De Nadai, A. S., Monahan, M., & Shirk, S. R. (2018). Meta-analysis of the prospective relation between alliance and outcome in child and adolescent psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, 55(4), 341-355.
Over the past decades there has been increasing research on the efficacy of psychotherapy for children and adolescents, but outcomes have not always been positive. Treatment of children and adolescents comes with challenges that are unique from those experienced in therapy of adults. For example, unlike most adults, children and adolescents may not be the ones to choose to attend therapy - that decision is often made by adults in their lives. Furthermore, psychotherapists must also develop and maintain a collaborative relationship with parents, on whom the therapist and child/adolescent rely in order to be able to engage in treatment. Because of the unique characteristics of working with children and adolescents, negotiating, developing, maintaining, and repairing the therapeutic alliance is potentially complex. The therapeutic alliance is defined as an agreement on tasks of therapy, an agreement on goals of therapy, and the relational bond between therapist and client. In this meta-analysis, Karver and colleagues reviewed 28 studies of psychotherapy with children and adolescents. The mean age was about 12 years, most children/adolescents had internalizing problems, but others had problems with externalizing behaviors, and substance abuse. Almost two thirds of the studies involved a version of behavior or cognitive behavioral therapy. The therapeutic alliance was measured from the perspective of the client, therapist, and/or the parent. The overall mean effect size of the alliance-outcome relationship was small to moderate: r = .19 (p < .01, 95% confidence interval [CI] [0.13, 0.25]). Larger effect sizes were seen in those therapies of children and adolescents with internalizing disorders (r = .19), and when the therapist – parent alliance was measured and correlated with outcomes (r = .30). In other words, a positive alliance was most important for internalizing disorders, and for the relationship between therapist and parent.
The findings of this meta-analysis indicate that the therapeutic alliance, especially with the parent, is important to the outcomes of children and adolescents in psychotherapy. Clinicians should not only develop an alliance with the youth, but also with the parent/caregiver. Therapists should also consider measuring the alliance regularly during therapy as a means of heading off any ruptures (with the youth or the parent) that might endanger the therapy. The authors recommended using the Therapeutic Alliance Scale for Children – Revised with children/adolescents, and the Working Alliance Inventory with parents.
The Effects of Routine Outcome Monitoring
Lambert, M. J., Whipple, J. L., & Kleinstäuber, M. (2018). Collecting and delivering progress feedback: A meta-analysis of routine outcome monitoring. Psychotherapy, 55(4), 520-537.
Somewhere between 5% and 10% of adult clients in clinical trials of psychotherapy get worse, and the numbers are likely higher in regular clinical practice. In addition, some therapists are more effective than others, so that some therapists have few clients who get worse whereas others consistently have high rates of poor client outcomes. Unfortunately, therapists have a difficult time assessing their client outcomes. Many therapists are overly optimistic about their clients’ outcomes, and clinicians frequently do not identify when clients get worse. One likely reason for this erroneous assessment of client outcomes is that typically psychotherapists do not have quality information in order to make accurate decisions and predictions. Assessing client outcomes on a regular basis throughout treatment is a difficult and complicated endeavour, and one that is beyond the capacity of most people. So, like other professionals (pilots, air traffic controllers, engineers) psychotherapists can improve their predictions and decision-making if they have access to quality information about their clients’ functioning. One source of such information for psychotherapists could be from the use of routine outcome monitoring. Routine outcome monitoring involves assessing client mental health functioning with reliable psychometric scales throughout the course of treatment, and feeding this information back to therapists who can use the data to adjust what they are doing if necessary. The two most commonly used outcome monitoring tools are the Outcome Questionnaire-45 (OQ-45) which is part of the OQ Analyst Feedback System, and the Outcome Rating Scale (ORS) and Session Rating Scale (SRS) which are part of the Partners for Change Outcome Management System (PCOMS). In this meta-analysis, Lambert and colleagues assessed the effect of regular outcome monitoring with the OQ-45 and the ORS to improve client outcomes. In 15 studies with almost 8,500 participants, the OQ-45 outperformed treatment as usual but with a small effect (SMD = .14, 95% CI [.08, .21]). However, the positive effect of using the OQ-45 with feedback was larger for the 31.2% of clients who were not doing well in therapy (SMD = .33, 95% CI [.25, .41]). Among those studies that used the OQ standardized feedback system that provides recommendations to therapists, the effects were even larger (SMD = .49, 95% CI [.25, .73]). Similarly, in nine studies with over 2,000 participants, the effects of using the PCOMS system had a small to moderate positive effects on client outcomes (SMD = .40, 95% CI [.29, .51]).
The research evidence supports the use of routine outcome monitoring with the OQ-45 or the PCOMS to improve client outcomes. Quality information that is fed back to clinicians can compensate for the limited capacity that any clinician has to accurately detect a client that is worsening in psychotherapy. The information provided to therapists with these feedback systems can highlight potential problems in the client and identify strain in the therapeutic alliance. This information can sensitise therapists to at-risk clients and situations, and encourage therapists to adjust their interventions or interpersonal stances accordingly.
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