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

PPRNet Blog: July 2016

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

blogIs it Feasible to Have a Nationally Funded Psychotherapy Service?

Community and Mental Health Team, Health and Social Care Information Centre (2015). Psychological therapies; Annual report on the use of IAPT services: England 2014/15.
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There have been calls from mental health professional organizations and by the media to provide publicly funded psychotherapy in Canada. Rates of common mental disorders in Canada are high, such that about 20% of the population will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. In 1998, the estimated direct and indirect economic cost of mental illness in Canada was $7.9 billion (all figures are in Canadian dollars). Current estimates of costs to fund a public psychotherapy service in Canada may be about $1 billion to $2.8 billion – which far outweighs the cost. Most outpatient psychotherapy in Canada is provided by professionals in private practice who charge somewhere between $100 and $200 per session, costing Canadians nearly $1 billion per year. Some people are fortunate to have workplace insurance that covers some but not all of the costs, but most people in Canada do not have insurance and so they pay out of pocket or they go untreated. Research shows us that approximately 13 to 18 sessions are needed for 50% of clients to get better with psychotherapy. Which means that even with an insurance plan, many Canadians who need psychotherapy will find it to be a financial burden. Since 2008, the National Health Service in England implemented the Improving Access to Psychotherapies (IAPT) services to provide publicly funded psychotherapy to the population. The psychological treatments provided through IAPT are evidence-based (e.g., CBT, interpersonal psychotherapy, brief dynamic psychotherapy for depression). For mild to moderate problems, individuals get low intensity interventions first (i.e., self help, internet based interventions), followed by more intensive psychotherapy if needed. Treatment outcomes are measured from pre- to post-treatment with valid standardized measures of depression and anxiety. At post-treatment, patients are categorized as reliably deteriorated, not changed, improved, and recovered. The goal of the IAPT is to achieve 50% recovery rates among patients. In their online 2014-15 annual report, the IAPT service reported that it treated over 400,000 patients in that year. 44.8% of patients were rated as reliably recovered – that is over 180,000 mentally ill patients improved and no longer had a mental illness. Reliable improvement was seen in 60.8% of patients – this included recovered patients plus those who still had a disorder but were feeling significantly better than when they started. Recovery was highest for people 65 years and older (57.8%). Rates of recovery were similar for depression (44.6%) and anxiety (47.8%) disorders, and between men and women. Waiting times for treatment was less than 28 days for 66.0% of patients.

Practice Implications

The experience in England with the IAPT is instructive for Canada. The IAPT service provides evidence-based psychological therapies within a publicly funded national health service. The IAPT approached its target of 50% of patients recovering from mental illness, and over 60% of patients were reliably improved. Waiting times were low for most patients. Given the experience in England’s National Health Service, the implementation of a national strategy for psychotherapy appears to be feasible and effective. Will political leaders in Canada be able to see the financial and human value of publicly funded psychotherapy?

View a copy of the Is it Feasible to Have a Nationally Funded Psychotherapy Service? report.

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blogLong-Term Efficacy of Psychological Therapies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Laird, K.T., Tanner-Smith, E.E., Russell, A.C., Hollon, S.D., & Walker, L.S. (2016). Short-term and long-term efficacy of psychological therapies for irritable bowel syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal (GI) disorder that affects 5% to 16% of the population. People with IBS have reduced quality of life similar to those with heart disease, heart failure, and diabetes. Previous meta analyses indicated that psychological therapies are just as effective as antidepressant medications immediately after treatment for improving symptoms of IBS. However, whether psychological therapies have longer lasting effects is unknown. It is important to patients and providers to know the longer term effects of psychological treatments for IBS because the disorder has a fluctuating course, and so symptoms may reappear after treatment is completed. In their meta analysis, Laird and colleagues reviewed 41 studies that recruited almost 2,300 adult patients. [A note about meta analysis: Meta analysis combines the standardized effect sizes (d) across many studies to estimate an average effect size. This means that meta analyses are much more reliable than any single study, and when possible they should be the basis for practice recommendations]. Psychological therapies for IBS often included cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but also included relaxation therapy, mindfulness, hypnosis, behavioral treatment, and psychodynamic therapies. Control conditions often were: supportive therapy, education, fake treatment for biofeedback or hypnosis, online discussion groups, treatment as usual, or wait-list controls. Psychological therapies were more effective than control conditions immediately post-treatment in improving GI symptoms, and the effects were moderately large (d = .69). Psychological therapies remained more effective than control conditions up to 6 months post-treatment (d = .76), and from 6 months to 1 year post-treatment (d = .73). CBT and other treatments (e.g., relaxation, hypnosis) were equally effective; and individual and group delivered treatments were no different in their efficacy. The number of sessions, duration of sessions, and frequency of sessions did not impact the efficacy of psychological interventions.

Practice Implications

Determining the longer term efficacy of psychological treatment for IBS is important because the symptoms tend to be recurrent and sometimes are chronic. Psychological treatments reduce GI symptoms in adults with IBS, and the effects appear to be long lasting – at least up to 1 year post-treatment. The average individual who received psychotherapy was better off than 75% of control condition participants.

View a copy of the Long-Term Efficacy of Psychological Therapies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome article.

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blogDirect Psychological Interventions Reduce Suicide and Suicide Attempts

Meerwijk, E.L., Parekh, A., Oquendo, M.A., Allen, I.E., Franck, L.S., & Lee, K.A. (2016). Direct versus indirect psychosocial and behavioural interventions to prevent suicide and suicide attempts: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Psychiatry.

The World Health Organization reports that more than 800,000 people die of suicide per year around the world. However suicide prevention efforts over the past decade have fallen short of targets. In fact, the prevalence rates of suicide in the US have risen steadily since 2000 to about 1.3% of the population in 2014. Many who kill themselves have a mental disorder like depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, psychoses, or personality disorders. Best practices suggest that directly addressing suicidal thoughts and behaviors during treatment, rather than only addressing symptoms like depression and hopelessness, are most effective in reducing suicide. However, there are no meta analyses of randomized controlled trials that specifically assess the relative utility of direct versus indirect psychological interventions. In their meta analysis, Meerwijk and colleagues looked at psychosocial interventions aimed to prevent suicide or to treat mental illness associated with suicide. They included 31 studies representing over 13,000 participants. Interventions included cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), case management, social skills training, and supportive telephone calls. Depending on the target problem, the interventions either directly addressed suicidal behavior or they indirectly addressed suicidal behavior. Mean duration of treatment was over 11 months. Studies that looked at direct or indirect interventions were each compared to control groups that received some form of usual care in the community, or psychiatric management, or general practitioner care. Individuals who received usual care were 1.5 times more likely to die of or attempt suicide compared to those receiving direct or indirect psychological interventions. There was a 35% lower odds of suicide and attempts with direct interventions compared to usual care; and an 18% lower odds of suicide and attempts with indirect interventions compared to usual care. The difference between the effectiveness of direct versus indirect interventions was large (d = .77), suggesting that direct interventions were more effective than indirect interventions at reducing suicide and suicide attempts.

Practice Implications

This is the largest meta analysis of its kind. Most direct interventions to prevent suicide and suicidal behaviors were based on CBT and DBT. Indirectly addressing suicide by focusing on depressive symptoms, anxiety, and hopelessness was somewhat effective compared to usual care. However, direct interventions that included talking about the patient’s suicidal thoughts and behaviors and how best to cope were most effective.

View a copy of the Direct Psychological Interventions Reduce Suicide and Suicide Attempts abstract.

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