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

PPRNet Blog: May 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

blogLying in Psychotherapy: What Clients Don’t Tell Their Therapist

Blanchard, M. & Farber, B.A. (2016). Lying in psychotherapy: Why and what clients don’t tell their therapist about therapy and their relationship, Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 29, 90-112.

Clients’ disclosure of their thoughts and feelings are key aspects of psychotherapy, and trust is at the heart of the therapeutic relationship. However clients are not always honest with their therapist. Clients may keep secrets, hide negative reactions to interventions, minimize, spin, or tell outright lies. In this study, Blanchard and Farber asked: “what do clients lie about in therapy and why”. The authors used a broad definition of dishonesty that included: consciously twisting the facts, minimizing, exaggerating, omitting, and pretending to agree with the therapist. The authors excluded delusions, repression, denial, and other forms of unconscious deception. Blanchard and Farber were particularly interested in client dishonesty about therapy itself and about the therapist. The authors conducted an online survey of psychotherapy clients recruited from a community sample in a U.S. city, and 547 adult clients responded. The sample was surprisingly similar to a therapy-using population reported in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Most clients were women (78%), White (80%), saw a female therapist (71%), received CBT (35.4%) or psychodynamic therapy (18%), and were treated for depression (64%) and/or anxiety (49%) disorders. The survey asked about a wide range of possible topics for dishonesty such as use of drugs or alcohol, desire for revenge, pretending to agree with the therapist, etc. With this broad definition of conscious dishonesty, 93% of clients reported lying to their therapist, in which the average number of topics lied about per client was 8.4 (SD = 6.6). Those who lied more often also reported a general tendency in their lives to conceal negative personal information (r = .45). Only 6.8% of clients reported having told zero lies in therapy. Some topics were highly endorsed by clients – for example, 54% endorsed lying about “how badly I really feel – I minimized”, 25% did not disclose “my thoughts about suicide” and “my use of drugs or alcohol”. Other topics (endorsed by 5% to 25% of clients) included lies about eating habits, self-harm, infidelity, violent fantasies, experiences of physical or sexual abuse, and religious beliefs. About 72.6% of clients lied about at least one therapy-related topic, including: “pretending to like my therapist’s comments or suggestions” (29%), “reason for missing an appointment” (29%), “pretending to find therapy more effective than I do” (28%), “pretending to do the homework” (26%), “my real opinion of the therapist (19%), “not saying I want to end therapy (16%), and “my therapist makes me feel uncomfortable” (13%).  Other items were relatively rare in the sample including “my romantic or sexual feeling about my therapist” (5%). Survey respondents were then asked why they were dishonest. Reasons why clients were dishonest included: “wanting to be polite”, “I didn’t want my therapist to feel he was bad at his job”, “I didn’t want to look bad or feel embarrassed”, “I would feel bad if I told her it really didn’t help me”, “wanting to avoid my therapist’s disapproval”, and “wanting to avoid upsetting my therapist”.

Practice Implications
Using a broad definition of dishonesty, this study found that 93% of clients did not tell the truth in one way or another to their therapist. Concern about self-judgments (i.e., embarrassment) or external judgments (i.e., avoiding therapist’s disapproval) may lead most clients to be less than honest at some times. Over 70% of clients reported lying about an aspect of therapy itself or of the therapeutic relationship. Clients appear to be particularly sensitive to upsetting or disappointing their therapist. This suggests the importance of therapists monitoring the level of emotional safety, trust, and alliance in the therapeutic relationship. Therapists may have to accept a certain level of dissimulation by clients in the therapy. Engaging in empathy, positive regard, and a focused attention on the therapeutic relationship may be important for therapists in order to overcome a level of fear or distrust among some clients about their self-judgement or the therapist`s judgment. These findings suggest that clients may benefit from therapists who receive training in identifying and resolving therapeutic alliance ruptures.

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blogWhat is the Therapist’s Contribution to Patient Drop-out?

Saxon, D., Barkham, M., Foster, A., & Parry, G. (2016). The contribution of therapist effects to patient dropout and deterioration in the psychological therapies. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, DOI: 10.1002/cpp.2028.

Sometimes patients experience negative outcomes in psychotherapy. For example, some patients drop out of therapy (i.e., they unilaterally decide to leave therapy before making any progress or before the endpoint planned with the therapist). In a previous meta-analysis of 669 studies, dropout rates ranged from 17% to 26% in psychotherapy trials. In this study, Saxon and colleagues were interested in the therapist effect on drop out. In other words, what is the impact of the individual therapist on negative outcomes like patients unilaterally terminating treatment? To examine the therapist effect one can look at differences between therapists in the average number of patients who drop out within their caseload. The authors looked at over 10,000 patients seen by 85 therapists from 14 sites in the United Kingdom initiative for Improving Access to Psychological Therapies.  Therapists were selected if they saw more than 30 patients, and patients were included if they attended more than one session of therapy. Patient mean age was 40.3 (SD = 13.0), 71.2% were women, most were White (95%) and employed (76%). Of all the patients, 76.8% had some level of depression and 82.7% had some level of anxiety. Over 90% of the patients scored in the clinical range for symptom severity at pre-treatment. Patient symptom severity seen by a particular therapist was controlled in this study so that therapists who tended to treat severe cases were not penalized (i.e., case mix was controlled). Patients who dropped out represented 33.8% of the sample, with over half of these patients unilaterally terminating before the third session. The mean number of sessions for treatment completers was 6.1 (SD = 2.68). Therapist differences (i.e., the therapist effect) accounted for 12.6% (CI = 9.1, 17.4) of the patient drop out variance. In other words, about a quarter of therapists had a significantly greater number of drop outs compared to the average therapist. The mean dropout rate for the average therapist was 29.7% (SD = 6.4), the mean dropout rate for the above average therapist was 12.0% (SD = 7.3), whereas the mean dropout rate for the below average therapist was 49.0% (SD = 10.4).

Practice Implications
Who a patient gets as a therapist appears to have an important impact on whether the patient remains in therapy. Almost half of clients dropped out if they saw a poorly performing therapist (and nearly a quarter of therapists were poorly performing). By contrast, highly performing therapists only had a 12% drop out rate. Therapist variables that are known to be related to negative outcomes like dropping out include: lack of empathy, negative countertransference, and disagreements with patients about the therapy process. Previous research showed that therapeutic orientation is not related to negative outcomes. Therapists who are perform below average on when it comes to patient dropout might be able to use progress monitoring or some other means of measuring their patients’ outcomes to their advantage. These therapists may require more support, supervision, or training to improve their patients’ outcomes.

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blogEffectiveness of Psychodynamic Couple Therapy in a Naturalistic Setting

Hewison, D., Casey, P., & Mwamba, N. (2016). The effectiveness of couple therapy: Clinical outcomes in a naturalistic United Kingdom setting. Psychotherapy, 53, 377-387.

Current randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of couple therapy indicate that about 60% to 70% of couples improve to some degree, and that about 35% to 50% are no longer distressed by the end of therapy. But RCTs have been criticized for being somewhat artificial because their design is based on how pharmacological treatments are tested. Psychotherapy may be more complex than pharmacotherapy in its implementation, and compared to pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy relies more heavily on the qualities of the therapist and therapeutic relationship in order to achieve good outcomes. In an RCT, individuals often have to have a specific disorder to be included in the study, and those with co-morbid disorders may be excluded. This may limit what the findings have to say about real world applications of a particular treatment. Further, therapists in RCTs may receive unusual levels of supervision and support that is seldom seen in regular clinical practice. In this large study of over 435 couples, Hewison and colleagues assessed the effectiveness of a psychodynamically-oriented couple therapy as practiced in a large not-for-profit centre that provides psychological treatment (i.e., the Tavistock clinic in the United Kingdom). All participants received couple treatment and none were randomly assigned to a control group. The couple therapy focused on insight and emotional connection and expression within the context of a therapeutic relationship. The couple relationship rather than the individual partners were the object of the therapy. The unconscious meaning of couple communication was often discussed, and therapist countertransference was seen as a source of information about the couple. Most couples in the study identified as White (77.0%), heterosexual (93.9%), and married or living in a civil partnership (58.4%). More than half of the couples were in the relationship for over 5 years and had children. Therapists were qualified couple therapists or Masters level trainees, had a mean age of 50 (range: 26 – 71), tended to be White women (60%), and were all trained at the clinic. The average number of sessions that a couple attended was 23.3 (SD = 23.5), but with a wide range (2 to 150 sessions) as might be typical in a clinical setting. Overall, individual clients reported a large significant decrease in individual psychological distress (d = -1.04), and a moderate significant decrease in marital distress (d = -0.58). Half of individuals showed a reliable reduction in their individual distress, and over a quarter of couples reported a reliable decline in their couple distress.

Practice Implications
This is the largest study of couple therapy in a naturalistic setting. The psychodynamic couple therapy was effective in reducing individual distress for almost half of the participants although reliable change in couple distress was lower. The results of this field trial indicate that couple therapy that is offered in a functioning real-world clinic setting produces results similar to what is seen in highly controlled randomized trials.

Click here for the article abstract.
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