Practice-Based Psychotherapy Research
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PPRNet Blog: February 2018


Giorgio A. TascaAt the PPRNet conference in November 2012 over 100 psychotherapy clinicians, researchers, and educators were very keen to receive ongoing information about psychotherapy research that is practice-oriented and presented in an easily readable format. And so the PPRNet Blog was born.

About once a month I will review and summarize two or three published psychotherapy research articles. As part of the summary, I will highlight the practice implications of the research.

Because of copyright issues, we cannot post the full text of the articles, but we will provide a link to the abstract on the publisher's web site. I will also post the author's email address. Most authors are very happy to share their work. So if you want a copy of the article send the author an email with a request for a pdf or reprint.

At the bottom of each review you can post a comment, and comment on your colleagues' comments. I will update these as frequently as possible.

If you have ideas for an article to review or a topic you would like to see covered, please send me an email at pprnet@toh.on.ca.

Giorgio A. Tasca


blogExperts Agree on Strategies to Repair Alliance Ruptures

Eubanks, C. F., Burckell, L. A., & Goldfried, M. R. (2017, December 21). Clinical consensus strategies to repair ruptures in the therapeutic alliance. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/int0000097

Research is clear that the therapeutic alliance (i.e., agreement on tasks and goals of therapy, and the bond between client and therapist) is an important predictor of client outcomes across theoretical orientations. It is also clear that ruptures or strains in the alliance occur often and can have a negative effect on client outcomes. One can define two types of ruptures: (1) withdrawal ruptures, in which the client moves away from the therapist by shutting down, changing the focus, or not completing session assignments; and (2) confrontation ruptures, in which the client moves against the therapist so that the relationship quality is low, the client is not collaborative, and the client does not agree with the goals of therapy. Repairing alliance ruptures can have a positive effect on client outcomes, and therapists can learn to repair alliance ruptures. What are the best strategies that a therapist can use to repair alliance ruptures? In this study of expert consensus, Eubanks and colleagues surveyed clinicians in three broad and different surveys. In the first survey, the authors asked 330 professional social workers and psychologists from a variety of theoretical orientations to describe situations in which they encountered alliance ruptures in clinical practice. The researchers categorized situations described by clinicians as withdrawal ruptures or as confrontation ruptures, and then the authors selected those scenarios that best represented each type of rupture. In a second independent survey, 177 clinicians indicated how they would advise a colleague seeking consultation to respond to each scenario of a therapeutic alliance rupture. Clinicians generated between 35 and 45 strategies to repair each type of alliance rupture. In the final part of the survey, training directors in psychology and social work programs nominated peer experts to rate the strategies for alliance repair, so that 134 peer-nominated expert clinicians provided ratings. There was a high level of consensus among experts such that between 55% and 74% agreed on effective strategies to repair alliance ruptures. Experts agreed that during the session in which the alliance rupture occurred therapists should: explore and empathize with the client`s anger at the therapist, and validate or legitimize the client`s position on the issue related to the rupture. Experts also agreed that in future sessions clinicians can use other strategies like: helping the client manage and cope with painful feelings related to the rupture, helping the client clarify and explore their emotions related to the rupture, and exploring the meaning and patterns of problematic relationships outside of therapy.

Practice Implications
Experts agreed that the best strategies to repair therapeutic alliance ruptures were to deal with the therapeutic bond (e.g., explore and empathize with the client`s anger at the therapist) and to validate the client`s position on the issue related to the rupture. Other strategies like helping the client cope with their reactions and feelings, and exploring the meaning and patterns related to the client`s response were also rated as helpful. Less helpful strategies included therapists communicating about the limits of therapy, and therapist self-disclosure of their reaction to the rupture.

Click here for article abstract

Author email: catherine.eubanks@einstein.yu.edu

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blogClient Honesty in Psychotherapy

Love, M. & Farber, B.A. (2018). Honesty in psychotherapy: Results of an online survey comparing high vs. low self-concealers, Psychotherapy Research, DOI: 10.1080/10503307.2017.1417652.

An important task of psychotherapy is for therapists to provide a context within which clients feel comfortable disclosing difficult feelings, thoughts, and other experiences in their lives. Self-disclosure likely improves the therapeutic alliance (agreeing on tasks and goals, and an emotional bond between therapist and client), which is necessary for good outcomes. In fact, research indicates that client self-disclosure is generally associated with positive outcomes in therapy. And yet a number of surveys report that clients keep secrets or lie to their therapists. Clients appear to struggle between being honest and self-disclosing versus the fear or anxiety related to doing so. Research indicates that one can describe individuals as high self-concealers in most relationships in their lives. Such individuals consistently conceal negative aspects of themselves from others to help manage their anxiety in relationships in the short term. However, in the long term, high levels of self-concealment increases rumination and anxiety and reduces coping. In this study, Love and Farber conducted an online survey of 572 participants who were currently in therapy or were in therapy in the past year. The sample characteristics and the type of therapy they received were surprisingly similar to a nationally representative sample of clients who seek treatment, though this online survey sample was somewhat younger. Over 84% of clients in this survey reported being dishonest about at least one topic with their therapist. Most frequent topics for being dishonest included: details of sex life (33.9%), suicidal thoughts (21.9%), self-harm (14.5%), real reactions to therapist comments (18.9%), whether therapy was helping (15.7%), and family secrets (16.3%). The most predominant motive for dishonesty was embarrassment or shame (63.6%), followed by doubts that the therapist would understand (27.0%), fear of overwhelming emotions (18.1%), and disappointing or hurting the therapist (16.4%). Not surprisingly, clients who tended to conceal their experiences reported disclosing less distressful information and also reported a lower therapeutic alliance with their therapists. Almost half of high self-concealers reported that dishonesty hurt their therapeutic progress.

Practice Implications
Topics like suicidal ideation and sex are particularly difficult to speak about honestly in therapy, especially for those who are uncomfortable with disclosing in general. Most clients are willing to discuss difficult topics with therapists if the therapist inquires sensitively and directly. High self-concealers are highly attuned to how therapists might react, and these clients anticipate shame or judgement. Therapists need to monitor the state of the therapeutic relationship with each client, especially the client’s perception of therapist warmth and trustworthiness. This could include monitoring for any ruptures in the therapeutic alliance. Further, therapists may need to communicate that self-concealment serves a short term purpose to reduce anxiety, but has a long term cost in terms of amplifying distress.

Click here for article abstract.

Author email: melanienlove@gmail.com

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blogTherapeutic Relationship Predicts Pharmacological Treatment Outcomes

Totura, C.M.W., Fields, S.A., & Kraver, M.S. (2018). The role of the therapeutic relationship in psychopharmacological treatment outcomes: A meta-analytic review. Psychiatric Services, 69, 41-47.

There is evidence to suggest that pharmacological treatments are effective for a wide range of disorders. However, a high level of adherence to taking psychotropic medications is necessary in order for them to have a chance of working. Medical interventions in general do not work well when patients are non-adherent to the regimen, and non-adherence is a significant problem in medicine. Treatment adherence is particularly problematic in those with a mental health condition. Low adherence may have to do with problems with the medications themselves, like unpleasant side effects. And low adherence also may be due to issues related to mental health impairment, like low motivation and problems with reasoning. A particular issue in mental health treatment is the manner in which patients receive the medication. Unlike some medical interventions, psychotropic medications are often taken by patients on their own and away from the clinic or hospital. In psychotherapy, we know that a good therapeutic alliance improves outcomes partly because a good alliance provides a context within which psychological interventions can work (i.e., clients may be more adherent to the treatment recommendations) and partly because the alliance itself may be therapeutic. In this meta analysis, Totura and colleagues examine if there is an association between the therapeutic alliance and mental health outcomes for patients who receive pharmacological interventions for their mental illness symptoms. Eight studies of 59 samples representing over 1,000 patients were included. Four studies were of pharmacological treatment for affective disorders, two for schizophrenia, and two for mixed diagnoses. The results indicated a statistically significant and moderate effect: z = .30 (CI=.20, .39, SE=.048, z=6.192, p=.05), such that greater therapeutic alliance predicted better mental health outcomes among patients receiving pharmacotherapy.

Practice Implications
Higher quality of the physician-patient relationship was related to better mental health treatment outcomes for patients taking pharmacotherapy. The therapeutic alliance appears to be just as import in pharmacological treatment as it is in psychotherapy. It is possible that a good alliance with the provider may increase patient adherence, which may lead to better outcomes. It is also possible, however, that the alliance itself is therapeutic. That is, negotiating an alliance and repairing alliance tensions may lead to positive changes in patients’ ability to cope with emotions and to make the most of their social supports. The results also suggest the importance of training physicians in communication skills to improve therapeutic relationships.

Click here for article abstract.

Author email: christine.totura@auburn.edu

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