Practice-Based Psychotherapy Research
To Improve The Wellbeing Of Our Community

PPRNet Blog: April 2017

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

Giorgio A. Tasca

blogDo All Therapists Do That When Saying Goodbye?

Norcross, J.C., Zimmerman, B.E., Greenberg, R.P., & Swift, J.K. (2017). Do all therapists say that when saying goodbye? A study of commonalities in termination behaviors. Psychotherapy, 54, 66-75.

One of the things common to all psychotherapy relationships is that they come to an end. The endings may be premature or planned. They may be well managed or poorly managed. In this article by Norcross and colleagues, the authors ask: what do expert therapists typically do when there is a planned termination with a client?  A planned termination is “an intentional process that occurs over time when a client has achieved most of the goals of treatment, and/or when psychotherapy must end for other reasons”. By contrast, premature termination occurs when the client ends treatment unilaterally. In successful cases the client and therapist typically predetermine the end date and have time to work toward the ending. Different theoretical orientations write about different aspects of termination. For example, from a psychodynamic perspective, therapists focus on clients’ old and new methods of coping, feelings related to the impending loss of the relationship, review gains, and work to equalize the relationship. From an experiential perspective, therapists might recognize that clients continue to change after therapy, help clients work through feelings of loss and separation of the therapeutic relationship, and consolidate new meanings. Cognitive-behavioral therapists might help clients to maintain gains made in therapy, review new skills, and prevent relapse. Do therapists who practice these and other theoretical approaches differ in terms of how they manage termination in psychotherapy? Norcross and colleagues surveyed 65 nominated experts representing six theoretical orientations of psychotherapy (psychodynamic, humanistic, CBT, interpersonal, multicultural, and integrative). Each orientation was represented by at least 10 expert therapists. The survey included 80 items related to termination that were drawn from books, chapters, and treatment manuals. The experts indicated the frequency with which they engaged in each behavior or the task related to termination. Therapist behaviors or tasks that received very strong consensus (>90% of therapists reporting “frequently” or “almost always” doing these) included: supporting the client’s progress, helping to consolidate gains made in therapy, following ethical practice (e.g., avoiding abandonment), attributing gains to the client’s effort, talking about what helped or went well, and collaborating with the client to set a date and pace of termination. Strong consensus (80% to 90% of therapists reported frequently doing these) behaviors or tasks included: focus on processing feelings around termination, having the client practice new skills, normalizing the probability of relapse, and prompting the client to think of a future without therapy. Of the 80 Items, 27 did not reach consensus among the therapists (i.e., only 21% to 59% of therapists agreed on these items). Out of the 80 items, only 8 (10% of items) showed significant differences between theoretical orientations (e.g., compared to other orientations, CBT therapists tended to do more of: preparing clients for relapse, and systematically assessing client outcomes near termination).

Practice Implications
This survey of 65 experts of varying psychotherapy orientations highlighted a wide range of commonalities in terms of how they managed termination with clients. While there was some uniqueness among orientations, most therapists tended to: process feelings about termination and the relationship with clients, discuss future functioning and coping, helped clients to use new skills, framed the client’s personal development as ongoing beyond therapy, prepared explicitly for termination, and reflected on the client’s gains.

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blogPatients are More Likely to Refuse and Drop Out of Pharmacotherapy Than Psychotherapy

Swift, J.K., Greenberg, R.P., Tompkins, K.A., & Parkin, S.R. (2017). Treatment refusal and premature termination in psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, and their combination: A meta-analysis of head-to-head comparisons. Psychotherapy, 54, 47-57.

Treatment refusal occurs when a patient is offered an intervention but then fails to begin it.  In treatment studies, this may occur when a patient initially agrees to participate in a trial but then discontinues immediately after finding out what intervention they will receive. In a clinic setting, a patient might call a mental health professional to schedule an initial appointment but not show up. This causes problems for the patient who is not receiving treatment, and for the professional who has an unfilled therapy hour. Premature termination, on the other hand occurs when a patient begins treatment but ends unilaterally against the provider’s recommendations and prior to recovery. Again, these patients typically do not improve and they do not receive an adequate dose of the treatment. Barriers to accepting or completing psychotherapy might include the cost, and the time and effort involved to engage in the therapeutic process. Barriers to accepting or completing pharmacotherapy might also include cost, unpleasant side effects, and fewer contacts with a non-judgemental listening professional. The aim of Swift and colleagues’ meta-analysis was to compare rates of treatment refusal and premature termination between psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy. The meta-analysis included 186 studies, 57 of which (with 6,693 participants) reported data on treatment refusal. A significant number of patients (8.2%; 95% CI: 7.0, 9.6%) failed to start treatment after they were told what treatment they would receive. Participants were 1.76 times more likely (95% CI: 1.27, 2.45) to refuse treatment if they were offered pharmacotherapy compared to psychotherapy. The average premature termination rate from treatment was 21.9% (95% CI: 20.6%, 23.3%). Patients assigned to pharmacotherapy were 1.2 times more likely (95% CI: 1.03, 1.41) than those who were assigned to psychotherapy to discontinue treatment prematurely.

Practice Implications
Participants were almost 2 times more likely to refuse treatment if they were offered pharmacotherapy compared to psychotherapy, especially for social anxiety disorder, depression, and panic disorder. Similarly, premature termination was higher for pharmacotherapy compared to psychotherapy, especially for eating disorders and depressive disorders. Previous research indicated that patients are 3 times more likely to prefer psychotherapy over medications for mental disorders. Research indicates that mental health professionals should work to incorporate patient preferences, values, and beliefs when making treatment decisions in order to reduce premature termination and treatment refusal.

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blogEfficacy of Psychotherapies for Borderline Personality Disorder

Cristea, I.A., Gentili, C., Cotet, C.D., Palomba, D., Barbui, C., & Cuijpers, P. (2017). Efficacy of psychotherapies for borderline personality disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.4287.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a debilitating disorder characterized by: severe instability of emotions, relationships, and behaviors. More than 75% of those with BPD have engaged in deliberate self-harm, and suicide rates are between 8% and 10%. BPD is the most common of the personality disorders with a high level of functional impairment. Several psychotherapies have been developed to treat BPD. Most notably, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and psychodynamic treatments like mentalization-based and transference-focused psychotherapy. This meta-analysis by Cristea and colleagues examined the efficacy of psychotherapy for BPD. Studies included in the meta-analysis (33 trials of 2256 clients) were randomized controlled trials in which a psychotherapy was compared to a control condition for adults with BPD.  For all borderline-relevant outcomes (combined borderline symptoms, self-harm, parasuicidal and suicidal behaviors) yielded a significant but small effect of the psychotherapies over control conditions at post treatment (g = 0.35; 95%CI: 0.20, 0.50). At follow up, there was again a significant effect of the psychotherapies over control conditions with a moderate effect (g = 0.45; 95% CI: 0.15, 0.75). When the different treatment types were looked at separately, DBT (g = 0.34; 95% CI: 0.15, 0.53) and psychodynamic approaches (g = 0.41; 95% CI: 0.12,  0.69) were more effective than control interventions, while CBT (g = 0.24; 95% CI: −0.01, 0.49) was not. The authors also reported a significant amount of publication bias, suggesting that published results may be positively biased in favor of the psychotherapies.

Practice Implications
The results indicate a small effect of psychotherapies at post-treatment and a moderate effect at follow-up for the treatment of BPD. DBT and psychodynamic treatment were significantly more effective than control conditions, whereas CBT was not. However, all effects were likely inflated by publication bias, indicating a tendency to publish only positive findings. Nevertheless, various independent psychotherapies demonstrated efficacy for symptoms of self harm, suicide, and general psychopathology in BPD.

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