Practice-Based Psychotherapy Research
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PPRNet Blog: February 2014

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

blogThe Process of Cognitive Therapy for Depression

Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change

Starting in March 2013 I will review one chapter a month from the Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change in addition to reviewing psychotherapy research articles. Book chapters have more restrictive copy right rules than journal articles, so I will not provide author email addresses for these chapters. If you are interested, the Handbook table of content and sections of the book can be read on Google Books:

The Process of Cognitive Therapy for Depression

Crits-Christoph, P., Connolly Gibbons, M.B., & Mukherjee, D. (2013). Psychotherapy process-outcome research. In M.E. Lambert (Ed.), Bergin and Garfield's Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, 6th Edition (pp. 298-340). New York: Wiley.

In this section of their chapter in the Handbook, Crits-Christoph and colleagues (2013) review research on: (1) specific techniques of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and (2) change mechanisms of CBT for depression. Research on techniques and mechanisms of change tests the specific or unique effects of a treatment and the rationale for its use. The first issue addresses whether therapist adherence and competence in using CBT techniques produce desired outcomes in patients. CBT techniques include: following an agenda, reviewing homework, asking about specific beliefs, practicing rational responses with patients, and asking patients to keep thought records. Crits-Christoph and colleagues (2013) report that the research findings on the association between using specific CBT techniques and depression outcomes are mixed. The strongest evidence is for concrete techniques such as setting agendas, reviewing homework, and practicing rational responses. However the number of studies that control for prior symptom change and other factors like therapeutic alliance is small, and so the evidence for the specific effects of CBT techniques remains meagre. The second issue addresses whether targeting depressogenic cognitions with CBT results in positive outcomes. Generally, CBT theory argues that the mechanisms by which CBT works is to focus on core depressogenic schemas (i.e., less consciously long held negative beliefs about the self), conscious negative automatic thoughts, and dysfunctional attitudes (i.e., patterns of automatic thoughts) that lead to or maintain depression. Theoretically, addressing these cognitions in CBT should reduce depressive symptoms. Overall, the research shows that both CBT and medication treatment for depression reduce self-reported negative thinking; that is, the effects on negative thinking were not specific to CBT. Few studies show that changes in cognitions precede changes in depressive symptoms, which is a key CBT tenet. The most promising findings suggest that learning compensatory skills (i.e., finding alternative explanations for negative events and thoughts, and problems solving) may be part of the mechanism by which CBT works, but again this mechanism may not be specific to CBT.

Practice Implications

CBT is an effective treatment for depression. CBT theory suggests that the reason for its effectiveness is the use of specific techniques (i.e., reviewing homework, asking for specific beliefs, practicing rational responses with patients, and asking patients to keep thought records) that target the purported causes of depression (i.e., depressogenic schemas, negative thoughts, and dysfunctional attitudes). Currently there is little research evidence that supports the specificity of CBT techniques or that supports the notion that specific changes in cognitions as a result of CBT reduce depression. Nevertheless, in general, concrete techniques (i.e., setting agendas, reviewing homework, and practicing rational responses) are clinically useful for depressed patients, as is learning compensatory skills like problem solving.


In "The Processes and Mechanisms of Change in CBT", you review the 'Process of Cognitive Therapy for Depression' section from Bergin & Garfield's Handbook. I noticed that in the summary, you refer to "CBT", but the Crits-Christoph review exclusively concerns Cognitive Therapy (CT), and in particular the CT premise that change in depression is specifically and causally linked to changes in cognitions, which is not something a CBT theory would predict (CBT models generally propose mutually influencing spheres of cognition, behaviour, and emotion). Also, CBT would include behavioural as well as cognitive interventions. Just thought I'd mention it, as it might lead to misunderstandings about CT as compared to CBT theory and techniques.

Kylie Francis, Ph.D., Ottawa

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blogSeparation Anxiety in Childhood is Related to Adult Panic and Anxiety Disorders

Kossowsky, J., Pfaltz, M., Schneider, S., Taeymans, J., Locher, C., & Gaab, J. (2013). The separation anxiety hypothesis of panic disorder: A meta-analysis. American Journal of Psychiatry, 170, 768-781.

The concept of separation anxiety is intimately tied to attachment theory. Problematic early attachments have negative consequences for adults' ability to experience and internalize positive relationships which help to develop mental capacities to self sooth, tolerate anxiety, and modulate affect. Separation anxiety is the persistent, excessive, and developmentally inappropriate fear of separation from major attachment figures, like parents. It is one of the most frequently diagnosed childhood anxiety disorders, with a lifetime prevalence of 4.1% to 5.1%. If we knew that separation anxiety is truly related to or causes adult psychopathology, then we would have a better understanding of the development of adult mental disorders and greater reason to quickly and aggressively treat childhood separation anxiety. A meta analysis by Kossowsky and colleagues (2013) begins to address this relationship between separation anxiety and adult disorders. They looked at case-control, prospective, and retrospective studies comparing children with and without separation anxiety disorder with regard to future panic disorder, major depressive disorder, any anxiety disorder, and substance use disorders. The meta analysis included 25 studies of 14, 855 participants. Children with separation anxiety were 3.45 times more likely to develop a panic disorder later on; and 5 studies suggested that children with separation anxiety were 2.19 times more likely to develop future anxiety disorders. Childhood separation anxiety disorder did not increase the risk of future depressive disorders or of future substance use disorders. In a subsequent paper, Milrod and colleagues (2014) reviewed the literature on separation anxiety and psychotherapy outcomes of adult anxiety and mood disorders. Separation anxiety is associated with poor response to treatment of adult anxiety and mood disorders possibly because separation anxiety disrupts the therapeutic relationship. Separation anxiety also predicted non-response to antidepressant medications.

Practice Implications

As Kossowsky and colleagues (2013) indicate, it is possible that children suffering from separation anxiety disorder may be hindered early on in developing skills to help cope with anxiety and strong emotions. Nevertheless, the findings draw our attention to the importance of recognizing and treating separation anxiety as early as possible. A few psychological treatment studies show that disorder-specific parent-child cognitive behavioral therapy is successful in treating separation anxiety in children. For adults, poorer treatment response may reflect difficulty forming and maintaining attachments, including the therapeutic relationship. Milrod and colleagues (2014) suggest that psychotherapies that focus on relationships and separation anxiety by using the dyadic therapist-patient relationship to revisit earlier problematic parent-child relationships may benefit adults with separation anxiety.

View a copy of the Separation Anxiety in Childhood is Related to Adult Panic and Anxiety Disorders article.
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blogThe Effectiveness of Evidence-Based Treatments for Personality Disorders

Budge, S.L., Moore, J.T., Del Re, A.C., Wampold, B.E., Baardseth, T.P., & Nienhuis, J.B. (2013). The effectiveness of evidence-based treatments for personality disorders when comparing treatment-as-usual and bona fide treatments. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 1057-1066.

Personality disorders (PD) are more stable and enduring than other mental disorders and are characterized by pervasive, serious, and rigid self-destructive patterns in affect, cognition, interpersonal relations, and impulse control that reduce psychological well-being. PD are associated with higher rates of self injury, suicide, and health care costs. The prevalence of PD in the population ranges from 6% to 13%. The presence of PD in a patient often reduces the effectiveness of psychological treatments for Axis I disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety) that the patient may have. Psychotherapy may be more effective than other interventions, such as pharmacotherapy, for treating PD. In their meta analysis, Budge and colleagues (2013) addressed two questions. First, are manualized evidence-based treatments (EBT) as provided in clinical trials superior to treatment as usual (TAU), presumably as offered in naturalistic settings, for treating PD? Second, are there differences between bona fide treatments (i.e., psychotherapy administered by trained therapists and based on sound psychological theories) for PD? (A note about meta analyses: meta analyses are a statistical method to combine the findings of a large number of studies while accounting for the sample sizes, quality of the studies, and size of the effects. Meta analyses provide us with much more dependable results than any single study could provide). Regarding the first question, 30 studies were included in the meta analysis. Evidence-based treatments included psychodynamic therapies, cognitive behavioral therapies, and dialectical behavior therapy, among others. Overall, EBTs were more effective than TAUs, and the effect was medium sized. The positive effects in favor of EBT over TAU were larger for patients with borderline personality disorder. For the second study comparing bona fide treatments, only 12 studies were found and included in the meta analysis. Only three of the studies indicated that one bona fide therapy was more effective than another. It is also important to note that the average duration of treatment in the EBT studies was 1 year and peaked at 40 sessions.

Practice Implications

As Budge and colleagues (2013) concluded, with sufficient training, supervision, and dose hours, it appears that evidence based treatments (EBT) are more effective than treatments as usual (TAU) for personality disorders (PD). The results of the meta analysis suggested that training in evidence based psychotherapies may be necessary to achieve the best possible outcomes for patients with PD, especially those with borderline personality disorder. Are there differences in between EBTs for PD? The literature on this issue is quite small, so that 12 studies are not enough to make many conclusions. There is previous evidence that psychodynamic therapies and CBT yield very large effects for PD. The pervasiveness and complexity of PD symptoms make it so that effective treatments are necessarily longer term, which is consistent with previous research on this topic.

View a copy of the The Effectiveness of Evidence-Based Treatments for Personality Disorders article.
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