Practice-Based Psychotherapy Research
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PPRNet Blog: January 2015

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

blogMethods of Repairing Alliance Ruptures

Safran, J. D. & Kraus, J. (2014). Alliance ruptures, impasses and enactments: A relational perspective. Psychotherapy, 51, 381-387.

In this clinically oriented review, Safran and Kraus discuss the evidence related to alliance ruptures, repairing alliance ruptures, and methods of training in alliance rupture repair. Safran’s work represents “second generation” research on the therapeutic alliance. The therapeutic alliance refers to the relational bond between client and therapist and their agreement on tasks and goals of therapy. A positive alliance is associated with good client outcomes across a variety of therapeutic approaches. Therapeutic alliance ruptures in psychotherapy are inevitable, such that the alliance is continually being re-negotiated, both implicitly and explicitly, throughout the therapy. Such ruptures might include strains, tensions, or breakdowns that could interfere with the ongoing collaboration between therapist and client. Ruptures are associated with re-enactments of dysfunctional relational patterns, but they also may provide opportunities for change and growth in therapy. Safran’s model of alliance ruptures and repairs sees the processes in the client-therapist relationship as key to understanding the client’s relationship problems. Collaboratively addressing tensions in the alliance allows the client to develop more flexible ways of being in relationships and of experiencing themselves. Research by Safran and Muran (2000) suggest that it is rare not to have some minor strain occurring in the therapeutic alliance. Ruptures may occur in half of therapy cases within the first six sessions. Research indicates that unresolved ruptures are associated with deterioration in the alliance, poor outcome, and patients dropping out. In a meta-analysis, repairing alliance tensions by using evidence-based strategies was associated with improved patient outcomes and the effect was large. Alliance ruptures occur across theoretical orientations. For example, research on cognitive therapy showed an improvement in therapist-client interpersonal processes after therapists were trained in techniques to resolve alliance ruptures.

Practice Implications

Alliance ruptures can range in intensity from minor tensions to major rifts in collaboration. They may occur at any time in treatment, and may be present in single or across multiple sessions. Safran and Kraus describe two general types of ruptures. First, withdrawal ruptures occur when clients deal with ruptures or misunderstandings by falling silent. The resolution may involve the therapist exploring the client’s interpersonal fears, reasons for inhibiting negative feelings, and providing the client with an opportunity to communicate their needs. Second, confrontation ruptures occur when clients directly express anger, resentment or dissatisfaction with the therapist or therapy in a blaming manner. The resolution may involve the therapist empathically engaging with the client to facilitate feelings of disappointment, hurt, and vulnerability. Key to this process is the therapist’s meta-communication or mindfulness abilities. The therapist must be aware of the behavior associated with the rupture, collaboratively explore the rupture experience, help the client overcome avoidance of feelings related to the rupture, and explore the client’s needs and wishes that emerge while working through the rupture.

View the Methods of Repairing Alliance Ruptures article.
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blogPsychological Therapy After a Suicide Attempt: A Nationwide Study

Erlangsen, A., Lind, B. D., Stuart, E. A., Qin, P., Stenager, E., Larsen, K. J., … & Nordentoft, M. (2014). Short-term and long-term effects of psychosocial therapy for people after deliberate self-harm: A register-based, nationwide multicentre study using propensity score matching. The Lancet Psychiatry. Early Online Publication: doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(14)00083-2.

Between 9 million and 35 million suicide attempts occur yearly in the world, and suicide accounts for over 800,000 deaths every year worldwide. Suicide attempts are associated with future attempts and with mortality. Within the first year, 16% of people attempt suicide again. Despite the occurrence of suicide attempts and its effects, there has been inconclusive evidence of the effectiveness of interventions to reduce future attempts and death. That is why this Danish nationwide study by Erlangsen is so important. Another impressive aspect of this study is its size and scope. Since 1992, psychological therapies have been offered to people at risk of suicide in specialized clinics throughout Denmark. The aim of Erlangsen and colleagues’ study was to assess if those who received these psychological interventions had a reduced risk of suicidal behavior and mortality compared to people who did not receive the interventions. The authors collected data from 1992 to 2010 from Danish national health registries. This procedure was possible in Denmark because the health system is nationally coordinated and each individual has a traceable national health ID. In order to be included in the study, those who were offered specialized psychological interventions had to receive at least one session of treatment. Therapy included cognitive behavioral therapy, problem solving therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, psychodynamic therapy, systemic therapy and others. The interventions consisted of up to 8 to 10 individual outpatient sessions. The comparison group received “standard care” that consisted of admission to hospital, referral to a general practitioner, or discharge with no referral. The primary outcomes were: repeated self-harm, death by suicide, and death by any other cause. Of the people receiving psychotherapy, 5,678 had useable data. The “standard care” sample was much larger and consisted of 58,281 individuals who were matched to the psychological intervention group on many variables including sex, age, education, antidepressant medications, and psychiatric diagnosis. For those receiving psychotherapy, the rate of repeated suicide attempts in the first year was 6.7% and 15.5% at 10 years. For those receiving standard care, rate of repeated suicide attempts in the first year was 9.0% and 18.4% at 10 years. The odds of another suicide attempt one year post treatment was 73% lower among those receiving psychotherapy. Death by any other cause at the 10 year mark was also significantly lower in the psychological therapy group (5.3%) versus the no-therapy group (7.9%). The authors estimated that over the 20 year span of their data, psychological therapy: prevented repeated suicide attempts in 145 people, prevented deaths by any other cause in 153 people, and prevented 30 suicide deaths. Psychosocial interventions were associated with fewer repeated suicide attempts in women but not in men, and adolescents and young adults benefitted most from psychological therapies.

Practice Implications

This is the largest long term follow up study ever of psychological interventions after a suicide attempt. Psychotherapy was associated with reduced risk of self-harm and mortality in the short and long term. This was especially true for women and in adolescents and young adults. Those receiving psychotherapy might have been a select group resulting in biased results. However, the extensive matching of the psychotherapy group to the no-therapy control group reduced the likelihood that factors other than psychotherapy influenced the findings. The study indicates strong support for providing psychological interventions to people at risk of suicide.

View the Psychological Therapy After a Suicide Attempt: A Nationwide Study study abstract.
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blogRate of Drop-Out From Psychotherapy Differs by Treatment Type but Only for Some Disorders: A Meta Analysis

Swift, J. K., & Greenberg, R. P. (2014). A treatment by disorder meta-analysis of dropout from psychotherapy. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 24(3), 193-207.

In one of my first PPRNet Blogs I reported on a meta analysis by Swift and Greenberg (2012) in which they found that almost 1 in 5 patients in clinical trials dropped out of therapy. There were no differences between therapeutic orientations in the drop out rates. However, the authors did report that those with eating disorders (23.9%) and personality disorders (25.6%) dropped out at a higher rate than other disorders. Premature termination from therapy is an important problem in that those who drop out are less satisfied and have poorer outcomes than treatment completers. In this follow up to their meta analysis, Swift and Greenberg ask the interesting question of whether premature termination differs across therapy orientations for any of the specific disorders. They compared the drop out rates of different treatment approaches for each of 12 separate disorders. The studies defined drop out in various ways, including: unilateral termination, not attending a set number of sessions, not achieving clinically significant change, etc. Treatment orientations, included: behavior therapy, cognitive–behavioral therapies, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), psychodynamic psychotherapies, solution-focused therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, humanistic/existential/supportive psychotherapies, and integrative approaches. Primary diagnoses included: depression, eating disorders, borderline personality disorder, other personality disorder, somatoform disorder, bereavement, obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychotic disorders, and social phobia. The authors conducted 12 meta analyses, one for each disorder to compare the therapy approaches. Overall, they included 587 studies. There were no differences in drop out rates among therapy approaches for 9 of the 12 disorders. For depression, integrative therapy had significantly lower drop out rates than other approaches (10.9% vs 19.2%), and for PTSD integrative therapy also had the lowest drop out rate compared to other treatments (8.8% vs 21.0%). Also, for PTSD, exposure based interventions had the highest drop out rates (up to 28.5%). For eating disorders, DBT had the lowest drop out rates compared to other approaches (5.9% vs 24.2%), but this was largely explained by older patient samples and shorter duration of treatment in DBT.

Practice Implications

There were no differences between treatments in drop out rates for 9 of 12 disorders. Swift and Greenberg argued that for these disorders, other factors (e.g., therapeutic alliance, client expectations) rather than specific techniques were enough to keep clients in therapy. For depression and PTSD, integrative treatments resulted in the lowest drop out rates. This suggests that therapists might consider incorporating techniques from other orientations that increase the acceptability of therapy for their clients with depression and PTSD. Use of exposure based interventions for PTSD may require a significant amount of work to prepare clients in order to reduce higher drop out rates.

View the Rate of Drop-Out From Psychotherapy Differs by Treatment Type but Only for Some Disorders: A Meta Analysis article abstract.
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