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
Psychotherapy Reduces Relapse from Depression
Clarke, K., Mayo-Wilson, E., Kenny, J., & Phillig, S. (2015). Can non-pharmacological interventions prevent relapse in adults who have recovered from depression? A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Clinical Psychology Review, 39, 58-70.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, the risk for relapse from depression can be as high as 60% for those who had one episode, 70% for those who had two episodes, and 90% for those who had three previous episodes. Intervening after recovery from an episode of depression might prevent relapse. A relapse is defined as any significant deterioration in depression following a period of clear improvement. We know that relapse after discontinuing antidepressant treatment is greater than relapse after discontinuing psychotherapy, likely because psychotherapy and not medications result in the patient acquiring new coping skills and strengths. Clarke and colleagues conducted a meta analysis of psychological interventions that were designed or adapted in order to reduce relapse after the acute phase depression. These include mindfulness based therapy (MBT) which helps individuals process experience without judgment by using mindfulness techniques; cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which helps to modify thoughts and behaviors key to depression; and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) which focuses on helping to deal with interpersonal and social role problems related to depression. Clarke and colleagues reviewed 29 studies that included 4216 participants who had at least one episode of depression, had recovered after treatment, and who received either MBT, CBT, or IPT to prevent relapse. These were compared to control conditions that included wait-lists, treatment as usual, or some other active intervention. Compared to all of the controls, MBT, CBT, and IPT reduced relapse rates from 21% to 25% among patients one year post acute treatment. The effects for CBT were maintained up to two years post treatment. There were no differences between psychotherapies and control conditions in drop out rates.
Psychotherapies (e.g., MBT, CBT, and IPT) reduce relapse from depression by about 22%. up to one year post recovery. Practitioners should consider offering MBT, CBT, or IPT as a form of booster sessions to reduce the likelihood of relapse from a previous episode of depression. Such interventions are important given the increasing relapse rates for each subsequent episode of depression.
Effects of CBT are Declining
Johnsen, T. J., & Friborg, O. (2015, May 11). The effects of cognitive behavioral therapy as an anti-depressive treatment is falling: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/bul0000015
Depression is a highly debilitating disorder and ranked third in terms of disease burden in the world. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for depression that was introduced over 40 years ago. In part, CBT sees depression as caused by maladaptive thoughts that maintain emotional distress and dysfunctional behavior. Reducing depression is achieved by eliminating the impact of or chancing maladaptive thoughts. CBT is the most researched psychological treatment for depression, and the research goes back several decades. A number of technical variations and new additions have been made over the years to CBT to improve patient outcomes. The volume of research and its history provides a unique opportunity to assess time trends in the effects of CBT. In this meta analysis, Johnsen and Friborg asked: “have the effects of CBT changed over time”? They also looked at whether client factors (e.g., demographics, symptom severity), therapist factors (e.g., age, experience, training), common factors (e.g., therapeutic alliance, client expectancies), and technique factors (e.g., fidelity to a treatment manual) can explain these trends. Johnsen and Friborg reported on 70 studies of 2,426 patients conducted from 1977 to 2014. Males accounted for 30.9% of patients, 43% had comorbid psychiatric conditions, and the average patient was at least moderately depressed. The average effect of CBT in reducing depression was large (g = 1.46 after accounting for publication bias). Women had better outcomes, studies with poorer methodological quality showed larger effects, and patients of more experienced therapists had better outcomes. There were too few studies measuring therapeutic alliance to assess the effect of common factors on outcomes. Most interesting was a significant relationship between effect sizes and year of publication. That is, the effects of CBT declined significantly over the years, though the average effect remained large. Surprisingly, there was a steeper decline for studies that used a treatment manual compared to those that did not. No other variables were reliably associated with this decline.
Women and patients of more experienced therapists appear to benefit most from CBT. Although the effects of CBT declined over time, the treatment remained highly effective. Johnsen and Friborg’s study could not easily explain this decline. The authors suggested that the placebo effect (expectation on the part of patients, researchers, and therapists) is typically stronger for new treatments. However, as time passes the strong initial expectations tend to wane thus reducing the overall effect of the intervention. They also suggested that CBT treatment outcomes may be improved not by technical variations and new additions, but by better ways of integrating common, therapist, and client factors.
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Psychotherapy for Subclinical Depression
Cuijpers, P., Koole, S.L., van Dijke, A., Roca, M., Li, J., & Reynolds, C.F. (2014). Psychotherapy for subclinical depression: A meta-analysis. British Journal of Psychiatry, 205, 268-274.
Subclinical depression refers to someone having relevant depressive symptoms but without meeting standard diagnostic criteria for a depressive disorder. Cuijpers and colleagues indicate that subclinical depression can be defined as meeting at least one but not more than four DSM core symptoms for depression. Subclinical depression is highly prevalent. About 50% of individuals with major depression have had a subclinical depressive disorder, and so subclinical depression may be a risk for developing major depression later on. Depression in general is associated with a high level of health and economic burden worldwide (see my June 2014 blog). Antidepressant medications are likely not more effective than a placebo in treating subclinical depression. Cuipers and colleagues examined whether psychotherapy is effective in treating subclinical depression, and whether psychotherapy reduces the subsequent occurrence of major depression. Cuijpers and colleagues report on a meta analysis of 18 studies of psychotherapy for subclinical depression representing 1,913 patients. Most of the studies were based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In order to compare the effects of psychotherapy for subclinical depression versus psychotherapy for major depression, they also included 56 studies of psychotherapy for major depression. Psychological treatments had a small to moderate effect on subclinical depression (g = .35) that was statistically significant. Psychotherapy significantly reduced the incidence of major depressive episodes by 39% at 6 months follow up, and by 26% at 12 months follow up. The effect of psychotherapy for major depression (g = .63) was significantly larger than the effect of psychotherapy for subclinical depression (g = .35). No differences were found between CBT and other forms of psychotherapy for subclinical depression.
The results of this meta analysis indicate that psychological treatment of subclinical depression is moderately effective, and may reduce the incidence of major depression in the longer term for some. Effect sizes of psychotherapy for subclinical depression were likely underestimated because the type of control groups used in these studies affected study quality. However, even after controlling for study quality, the effects of psychotherapy for subclinical depression were still smaller than effects for psychotherapy of major depression. Although the number of studies comparing CBT to other therapies is small, the findings are similar to other meta analyses that indicate that several psychotherapies are effective treatment options for depressive symptoms.
The Efficacy of Psychotherapy for Depression in Parkinson’s Disease
Xie, C.L., Wang, X.D., Chen, J., Lin, H.Z., Chen, Y.H., Pan, J.L., & Wang, W.W. (2015). A systematic review and meta-analysis of cognitive behavioral and psychodynamic therapy for depression in Parkinson’s disease patients. Neurological Sciences, 1-11.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that progresses slowly in most people. When dopamine producing cells in the brain are damaged or do not produce enough dopamine, motor symptoms of PD appear. Non-motor symptoms, including depression, apathy, and sleep disorders are also common so that in clinical settings about a 40% of patients with PD may have a depressive disorder. Depression is a top predictor of poor quality of life in patients with PD. Depression in PD is not well understood but may be due to neurobiological vulnerability and to psychological factors. Antidepressant medications are often prescribed for depression in PD but their efficacy is questionable. Xie and colleagues argue that long term use of some antidepressants may lead to worsening of some PD motor symptoms. In this meta analysis, Xie and colleagues examine the efficacy of brief psychological interventions, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic psychotherapy for depressive symptoms in PD. Twelve eligible studies were included in the meta analysis representing 766 patients with a mean age of 62 years (48% men). As an interesting note, 9 of the 12 studies were conducted in China and 3 were from the US or UK. Six of the studies used CBT for depression, and the remaining used psychodynamic therapy for depression in PD patients. Control conditions were often “treatment as usual”, and varied from antidepressant medication (e.g., Citalopram), nursing care, telephone calls, or no treatment for the depression. The effects of psychological interventions compared to control conditions on depressive symptoms were large, and remained large even after removing outlier studies. Outcomes for psychodynamic psychotherapy were better than for CBT, although both interventions resulted in large effects. There were also significant positive effects of brief psychotherapies on cognitive functioning, but not on quality of life. The authors were concerned that the quality of studies was variable and that many studies demonstrated a risk of bias. Further, most studies did not report outcomes at follow up periods.
Significant depressive symptoms commonly occur in patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD). As a result, overall quality of life may be reduced in patients with PD. Medications for depression may be complicated by the neurodegenerative nature of PD – that is, effects of medications on depressive symptoms may be small and their neuro-motor side effects may be intolerable for some patients. This meta analysis by Xie and colleagues of 12 studies suggests that better research on psychotherapy for depression in PD needs to be conducted with adequate follow ups. Nevertheless, the findings suggest that brief psychological interventions may represent viable and effective alternatives for patients with PD who have a depressive disorder.
Does Cognitive Therapy Have an Enduring Effect Superior to Keeping Patients on Medication?
Cuijpers, P., Hollon, S. D., van Straten, A., Bockting, C., Berking, M., & Andersson, G. (2013). Does cognitive behaviour therapy have an enduring effect that is superior to keeping patients on continuation pharmacotherapy? A meta-analysis. BMJ open, 3(4).
In another in a series of meta analyses by this primarily Dutch group, Cuijpers and colleagues tackle the question of whether the longer term effects of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT; a short time-limited treatment for depression) outweighs the long term effects of continuation on anti depression medications. CBT is considered an efficacious treatment for depression (see my June 2014 Blog). CBT also has comparable effects as antidepressant medications, but CBT tends to have lower rates of treatment drop outs. What is not clear is whether short term CBT leads to lasting change that is comparable to long term use of medications for depression. One could argue for example, that short term CBT or other comparable psychological interventions teaches patients skills or changes psychological functioning such that future recurrences of depression are less likely. That is, psychological interventions may cause changes that eventually will prevent relapse. Pharmacotherapy on the other hand, may not result in psychological change or acquisition of new skills to forestall a relapse. In fact, patients with chronic depression tend to be kept on medications indefinitely, and patients who recently remit (i.e., no longer have symptoms of depression) are typically kept on pharmacotherapy for another 6 to 12 months to reduce the risk of recurrence. Information about the relative longer term effects of short term treatment with a psychological intervention like CBT versus longer term maintenance on pharmacotherapy can help practitioners and patients decide on the best course of action depending on patient preferences. Cuijpers and colleagues asked: is short term CBT without continuation of treatment as effective as short term treatment of pharmacotherapy with and without long term continuation? They conducted a meta analysis in which the effects of short term CBT were compared to pharmacotherapy in adults diagnosed with depression across follow up periods of 6 to 18 months. Nine studies representing 506 patients were included in the meta analysis. There was a non-significant trend showing that short term CBT outperformed continuation pharmacotherapy at one-year post treatment. On the other hand, CBT resulted in better long term outcomes compared to pharmacotherapy that was discontinued at post treatment. The odds of dropping out of treatment were significantly higher for those receiving pharmacotherapy compared to CBT. There were no differences in any of the findings for type of antidepressant medications.
The findings reaffirm CBT as a first-line treatment of depressive disorders. It also suggests that equally effective other psychological treatments may also have similar enduring effects compared to pharmacotherapy. Patients and providers need to consider all of the evidence when weighing the pros and cons of psychotherapy or medications for the treatment of depression. Although pharmacotherapy might be more widely available to patients through primary care physicians, the research is suggesting that enduring effects and treatment compliance are higher among those who have access to psychological interventions.
Long-Term Effects of Psychotherapy for Depression
Steinert, C., Hofmann, M., Kruse, J., & Leichsenring, F. (2014). Relapse rates after psychotherapy for depression - stable long term effects? A meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2014.06.043
As I reported in the June 2014 Blog depression is the most highly prevalent of the mental disorders with a lifetime prevalence of about 16%. It is responsible for enormous personal and economic burden for individuals and their families. Depression can occur as a single episode, however recurrence of depressive episodes can range from about 35% to 85% of those who were depressed. About 10% of cases experience chronic depression. Studies report that chronic or severe depression result in a lower response to interventions, including psychotherapy. Meta analytic research shows that a number of psychotherapeutic interventions are equally effective for treating depression (see also the July 2014 Blog). However, all of these meta analytic reviews of the effects of psychotherapy for depression referred to studies demonstrating short or medium term effectiveness. There are very few studies that report long term effectiveness of any type of treatment (psychological or pharmacological) for depression. This is a problem given the fluctuating and sometimes chronic course of the disorder. Randomized controlled trials of psychotherapy are expensive and time consuming, and collecting follow up data is difficult. And so it is not surprising that few studies assess outcomes after one or two years post treatment. Steinert and colleagues conducted a meta analysis looking specifically at studies that documented long term (i.e., greater than 2 years) post psychotherapy outcomes for depression. (A note on meta analyses: Meta analyses are a set of procedures that allow one to statistically combine the effects of many studies in order to estimate the average effect across many studies and participants. Meta analyses produce much more reliable results than any single study can produce, and so meta analyses are the best way of summarizing research to affect practice). Steinert and colleagues found 11 studies of 966 patients that reported outcomes beyond 2 years post psychotherapy. Six of the studies compared psychotherapy to another intervention (e.g., medications, treatment as usual, clinical management). The authors found that 40% of patients treated with psychotherapy had at least one relapse in a follow up period averaging about 4 years. Compared to non-psychotherapy interventions psychotherapy had a significantly lower likelihood of experiencing a relapse. Despite the positive long term outcomes of psychotherapy for depression, the authors noted that there was a great deal of inconsistency across studies (i.e., hetereogeneity), which lowers ones confidence in the reliability of these findings.
There are very few studies of long term (> 2 years post treatment) outcomes of psychotherapy for depression. In the June and August PPRNet Blogs, I reported on large scale worldwide reviews that indicate how pervasive depression can be, and how detrimental depression is to health and well being. Depression can be recurrent and chronic for some, so demonstrating long term outcomes is important. On the positive side, psychotherapy results in 60% of individuals not experiencing relapses 4 years post treatment, and psychotherapy resulted better long term outcomes than non-psychotherapy interventions. However, having so few studies that assess long term outcomes reduces our confidence in these findings. A number of psychotherapies including cognitive behavioral therapies, psychodynamic therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, and others are effective for treating depression.