Practice-Based Psychotherapy Research
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PPRNet Blog: June 2013

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

blogEfficacy and Effectiveness of Group Treatment

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 can be viewed on Amazon: Handbook table of content on Amazon.

Efficacy and Effectiveness of Group Treatment

Burlingame, G.M., Strauss, B., & Joyce, A.S. (2013). Change mechanisms and effectiveness of small group treatments. In M.J. Lambert (Ed.) Bergin and Garfield's handbook of psychotherapy and behaviour change (6thed.), pp. 640-689. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.

Group treatments are the most common types of interventions offered in community, organizational, institutional, and hospital settings. They occur in many contexts including: outpatients, inpatients, day hospital, private practice, community health, support groups, drop-in centres, and educational organizations. Despite the extent of their application, group treatments receive relatively little research attention compared to individual psychotherapy or medication interventions. (Not to mention the pervasive and mistaken notion that group therapy is like doing individual therapy with 8-10 patients at once, or that individual therapy training is sufficient to be expert in group therapy). There are many reasons for this relatively lower amount of research, including the lack of expertise in and understanding of group practice among clinical researchers, and the substantially greater difficulty in running a clinical trial of group therapy (of the latter I have ample experience and war wounds). Nevertheless, Burlingame and colleagues summarized more than 250 studies that estimated the efficacy or effectiveness of group therapy for 12 disorders or populations. The findings indicate good or excellent evidence for the efficacy of group treatments for many disorders or patient groups (e.g., panic, social phobia, OCD, eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma related disorders, coping with breast cancer, schizophrenia, and personality disorders). There are also promising results for other disorders (e.g., mood, pain, and inpatients). Although there are substantially more studies on group CBT, most studies that compare different models (including IPT, psychodynamic, DBT, etc.) often produce equivalent outcomes. There is also lots of evidence that group therapy is as effective as individual therapy or medications for most disorders. In one U.S. study on panic disorder, group psychotherapy was the most cost effective (i.e., cost per rate of improvement) of the interventions ($246) compared to individual therapy ($565) and medications ($447). There is also research on the effects of specific characteristics of groups. For example, research on group composition (i.e., heterogenous vs homogeneous in terms of patient population or functioning) has produced mixed results, though there is emerging evidence that heterogeneous groups tend to benefit those who are lower functioning. Further, research on group cohesion (i.e., the bond between the individual and the group) which is a construct related to but distinct from alliance, is positively associated with treatment outcomes with a moderate effect size.

Practice Implications

Group treatments are as effective as individual therapy or medications, and are likely more cost effective. However group therapy is more complicated to practice and to study. Burlingame and colleagues suggest using empirically validated interventions, and ongoing assessment of client outcomes. They also suggest following the American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA) practice guidelines (see the Resources page on our web site), that include best practices for creating a successful group, appropriately selecting clients, preparing clients for group, evidence based interventions, and ethics issues related to group practice. Finally, Burlingame and colleagues emphasize using AGPA recommended measures and resources in developing and assessing a therapy group. These include: (1) group selection and group preparation which may involve handouts for group leaders and members about what to expect and how to get the most from group therapy; (2) assessing group processes repeatedly during group therapy using measures like the Therapeutic Factors Inventory or the Working Alliance Inventory; and (3) measuring client outcomes by using an instrument like the Outcome Questionnaire-45. Repeated measurement and feedback of processes and outcomes to the therapist may improve the group's effectiveness.

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blogClient Preferences for Psychotherapy

Swift, J. K., Callahan, J. L., Ivanovic, M., & Kominiak, N. (2013, March 11). Further examination of the psychotherapy preference effect: A meta-regression analysis. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031423

Client preferences consist of preferences regarding the type of treatment offered (e.g., preference for psychotherapy or medication, preference for a behavioral approach to treatment or an insight oriented one), desires for a certain type of therapist or provider (e.g., preference for an older therapist, a female provider, or a therapist who has a nurturing personality style), and preferences about what roles and behaviors will take place in session (e.g., preference for the therapist to take a listening role or an advice giving role). In a previously published meta analysis Swift and colleagues (2011) reviewed data from 35 studies that compared preference-matched and non-matched clients. A small but significant preference outcome effect was found, indicating that preference-matched clients show greater improvements over the course of therapy, and that clients whose preferences were not matched were almost twice as likely to discontinue treatment prematurely. In this follow up meta regression study, Swift and colleagues assessed whether preference accommodation is more or less important for types of disorders, types of treatments, or different demographics like sex or age. (Meta regression involves accumulating data from across many studies to assess predictors [e.g., sex, age, diagnosis, treatment type, etc.] of the preference effect). For example, some research has indicated that men prefer therapists with more feminine traits and that men prefer pharmacological interventions. But does accommodating these preferences affect outcomes and drop out rates? Is matching preferences essential for younger clients? Is matching preferences more important for women or ethnic minorities? The authors analysed data from 33 studies representing 6,058 clients to address some of these questions. The only variable that predicted the influence that preferences have on rates of premature termination was the length of the intervention. That is, it may be more important to accommodate client preferences for briefer therapies. Perhaps, as clients continue in therapy for longer durations, other variables such as the therapeutic alliance play a bigger role in determining whether or not one drops out prematurely. It is also possible that as treatment continues, clients may experience a shift in preferences to more closely match the treatment conditions that they were given. Once this shift in preferences has occurred, preferences are no longer mismatched, and the risk of dropping out may be diminished.

Practice Implications

This study provides evidence that incorporating client preferences may be important for all types of clients. Generally, when client preferences are accommodated, clients show greater improvements while in treatment and are less likely to discontinue the intervention prematurely. As much as is practical, practitioners might collaboratively work with clients to identify what preferences they hold for treatment, and to discuss those preferences in the context of what is the most effective treatment that is available. This is particularly important for psychotherapies of shorter duration.

View the Client Preferences for Psychotherapy article abstract.
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blogParallel Process in Psychotherapy Supervision

Tracey, T. J., Bludworth, J., & Glidden-Tracey, C. E. (2011). Are there parallel processes in psychotherapy supervision? An empirical examination. Psychotherapy, 49(3), 330-343.

Parallel process was first proposed in the psychodynamic literature as the replication of the therapeutic relationship in supervision. Parallel process is also recognized as an important aspect of supervision in developmental and interactional models of supervision, even though those models do not endorse the unconscious aspects of parallel process. Parallel processes in supervision occur when: (1) the trainee therapist brings the interaction pattern that occurs between the trainee therapist and client into supervision and enacts the same pattern but with the trainee therapist in the client's role, or (2) the trainee therapist takes the interaction pattern in supervision back into the therapy session as the therapist, now enacting the supervisor's role. For example, a client comes into therapy seeking guidance because things are not going well in his relationships. He desires structure and direction from the trainee therapist (client's behaviour is submissive). The trainee therapist attempts to help the client by providing guidance (therapist's behaviour is relatively dominant). The client then responds with “Yes, but…” to suggestions offered by the trainee therapist (client's behaviour is non-affiliative). The trainee therapist over time starts to become subtly “critical” of the client (therapist matches the non-affiliative client behavior). The trainee therapist goes into supervision complaining about the client's “resistance” and the trainee therapist asks for help and direction from the supervisor (trainee therapist increases his submissive behavior in a parallel enactment of the client's submissive stance). As the supervisor provides some direction (supervisor increases her dominance), the trainee therapist responds with “Yes, but…” (trainee therapist increases his non-affiliative behavior). The supervisor engages in more “critical” comments than usual in response to the therapist (supervisor matches the non-affiliative trainee behavior). In this way, the supervision interaction becomes a relative replication of the therapy relationship, captured in the parallel amounts of dominance/submission and affiliation/non-affiliation exhibited by the participants in relation to each other. Tracey and colleagues (2012) studied this phenomenon by coding moment by moment interpersonal interactions using an interpersonal circumplex model (i.e. a model that assesses relative dominance and affiliation) among 17 triads of clients/trainee therapists/supervisors in a series of single case replications. The authors hypothesized that relative dominance and affiliation would be parallel between clients/trainee therapist pairs and corresponding trainee therapist/supervisor pairs in contiguous sessions. Significant results were found for each dyad within the 17 client/trainee therapist/supervisor triads. Therapists in the role of trainee altered their behavior away from their usual in supervision to act somewhat more like particular clients did in the previous therapy session. Supervisors tended to engage in complementary interpersonal responses in the subsequent supervision session. This provided evidence for parallel process at an interpersonal level of interactions. Further, positive client outcome was associated with increasing similarity of trainee therapist behavior to the supervisor over time on both dominance and affiliation. That is, the more therapists acted like their supervisors in the previous supervision meeting on both dominance and affiliation, the better the client outcome.

Practice Implications

This article provides intriguing evidence for an interpersonal model of parallel process. Supervisors may choose to communicate with the trainee about how the trainee therapist and client are interacting, as well as how the trainee and supervisor are interacting. In this way, the supervisor makes the implicit aspects of the parallel process more explicit for the trainee therapist. The trainee then can make choices about how best to proceed based on the new understanding of the interactional pattern at the process and content levels of interaction. For example, a therapist and supervisor can come to understand a block in the supervisory alliance as a parallel to a similar impediment in the trainee therapist-client relationship. A supervisor working through the block in supervision to create a more collegial and affiliative environment may model for the trainee therapist ways in which to effectively and collaboratively work with their client.

View the Parallel Process in Psychotherapy Supervision article abstract.
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