Practice-Based Psychotherapy Research
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PPRNet Blog: October 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 pprnet@toh.on.ca.

Giorgio A. Tasca


blogThe Long Reach of Nurturing Family Environments

Waldinger, R.J. & Schulz, M.S. (2016). The long reach of nurturing family environments: Links with midlife emotion-regulatory styles and late-life security in intimate relationships. Psychological Science. DOI:  10.1177/0956797616661556.

Although, not a psychotherapy study, this research has important implications for psychological treatment of adults, including older adults. This research, drawn from the original Grant study, is extraordinary because the sample is from a 78-year long study of 81 men. The original cohort of over 200 men were first assessed as adolescents and young adults between 1939 and 1942. At that time, the original authors conducted intensive interviews of the adolescents` family experiences and current life situations. These men were re-interviewed in mid-life in the 1960s (aged between 45 and 50 years), which included interviews and assessments of challenges in relationships, work functioning, and physical health. Waldinger and Schulz recently re-interviewed these men and their current partner in late-life (aged between 75 and 85 years), with interviews focusing on their current partner relationship. Raters reviewed audio recordings and notes from all the interviews and coded for: (a) quality of family environment in childhood (distant, hostile vs cohesive, warm) - taken from the first interview; (b) style of regulating emotions (suppressive, maladaptive vs engaged, adaptive) – taken from the midlife interview; and (c) security of attachment with their current partner (secure, comforting vs insecure, anxious) – taken from the late-life interview. The authors found that more nurturing early family environments were significantly linked with late-life attachment security with a partner (r = .23, 95% CI = .01, .45), and early family environment was significantly related to midlife adaptive emotion regulation strategies (r = .29, 95% CI = .06, .50). Also, adaptive emotion regulation strategies in midlife were significantly correlated with greater late-life attachment security (r = .23, 95% CI = .05, .51). These are medium-sized correlations, but they are remarkable because they represent associations between variables that were assessed decades apart. Through a statistical mediation analysis, the authors also reported that adaptiveness of emotion-regulation strategies partially explained why positive childhood family environments may lead to late-life attachment security (accounting for 6% of the variance).

Practice Implications

This compelling study adds to the argument that early family environment shapes the way adults regulate their emotions, which in turn affects how they experience relationships in old age. More securely attached adults were better able to meet two challenges associated with aging: accepting vulnerability in depending on a partner, and accepting the responsibility of being depended upon by that partner. The early family environment indeed has a long reach. Psychotherapy directed at reducing the effects of childhood adversity takes on a heightened meaning in the context of these findings. Treatment for adults who struggle with the consequences of non-nurturing early environments should include improving emotion regulation strategies.

View the article The Long Reach of Nurturing Family Environments.

Author email: rwaldinger@mgh.harvard.edu

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blogClients’ Experiential Depth in Therapy Predicts Better Outcomes

Pascual-Leone, A. & Yeryomenko, N. (2016): The client “experiencing” scale as a predictor of treatment outcomes: A meta-analysis on psychotherapy process, Psychotherapy Research, DOI: 10.1080/10503307.2016.1152409

A key issue in existential-humanistic psychotherapy is the degree to which therapy encourages clients to explore new feelings and meanings in relation to the self. This is often called ‘experiential depth’ or simply ‘experiencing’. Carl Roger highlighted the need for clients to increase their awareness, accept their feelings, and use their feelings as information to further explore and understand themselves. The notion of ‘depth of experiencing’ refers to the degree to which clients engage and explore their feelings moment by moment in therapy to increase personal meaning-making. One way of assessing experiential depth is with the Client Experiencing Scale. Low scores on the scale indicate unengaged levels of experiencing, in which clients recount events in an emotionally neutral or disengaged manner. High scores indicate more introspection as clients begin to process their experiences and identify feelings that lead to creating new meanings that contribute to resolving their problems. In this meta analysis of the Client Experiencing Scale, Pascual-Leone and Yeryomenko systematically reviewed the research literature and found 10 studies of 406 clients that evaluated the scale`s association with client outcomes. The therapies in the meta analysis included experiential-humanistic approaches, CBT, and interpersonal psychotherapy. Overall, they found a moderate association (r = .25; 95% CI: .16, .33) between higher client experiencing and better treatment outcomes. The association was similar for different therapeutic orientations and stages of therapy. On average, client depth of experiencing tended to increase from the early to later stages of treatment.

Practice Implications

Compared to those who did not engage with their experiences in a meaningful way, clients who were internally focused, engaged in exploration, referred to their emotions, and who reflected on their experiences had better outcomes. Experiential depth allowed clients to create new meanings to resolve personal problems. Therapist interventions that deliberately point the client to a deeper level of experiencing, are likely to result in clients following suit and deepen their own process.

View a copy of: The client “experiencing” scale as a predictor of treatment outcomes.
Author email: apl@uwindsor.ca

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blogThe Quality of Psychotherapy Research Affects The Size of Treatment Effects for CBT

Cuijpers, P., Cristea, I.A., Karyotaki, E., Reijnders, M., Huibers, M.J.J. (2016). How effective are cognitive behavior therapies for major depression and anxiety disorders? A meta-analytic update of the evidence. World Psychiatry, 15, 245-258.

You might think that an esoteric topic like study quality should not really be of interest or concern to clinicians – but it is an important topic with practice implications. In this meta analysis Pim Cuijpers and his research group updated the meta analytic evidence for the efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for a variety of disorders (major depressive disorder [MDD], generalized anxiety disorder [GAD], panic disorder [PAD], and social anxiety disorder [SAD]). The important thing about meta analyses is that the method combines the effect sizes from all relevant studies into a single metric – an average effect size. These average effect sizes are much more reliable than findings from any one single study. In fact, whenever possible, clinical decision-making should be based on a meta analysis and systematic review and not on a single study. Meta analyses also allow one to give more weight to those studies that have larger sample sizes, and that employ better methodologies. Even more, meta analytic techniques allow one to adjust the averaged effect size by taking into account publication bias (i.e., an indication of the effects from studies that might have been completed but were never published, likely because they had unfavorable findings). Usually, average effect sizes are lower when they are adjusted for study quality and publication bias. Cuijpers and colleagues’ meta analyses found that the unadjusted average effects of CBT were large for each of the disorders (ranging from g = .75 to .88 [confidence intervals not reported]). However adjusting for publication bias reduced the effects to medium-sized for MDD (g = .65) and GAD (g = .59). Only 17.4% of the individual studies of CBT were considered to be of “high quality” (i.e., studies that use the best methodology to reduce bias, like random allocation, blinding, using all the available data, etc.). After adjusting for study quality, the effects of CBT for SAD (g = .61) and PAD (g = .76) were also reduced to medium-sized. Not surprisingly, the effects of CBT were largest when the treatment was compared to a wait-list no-treatment control group. The effects were small to moderate when CBT was compared to treatment as usual or to a placebo.

Practice Implications

Even when adjusting for study quality and publication bias, the average effects of CBT were medium-sized for a variety of common disorders compared to control conditions. Unfortunately, the quality of the studies was not high for most trials, reducing the effect sizes and lowering our confidence in the efficacy of the treatment. Nevertheless, the findings of this meta analysis suggest that CBT will likely have moderate effects for the average patient with MDD, SAD, PAD, and GAD.

For a copy of How Effective are Cognitive Behavioral Therapies
Author email: p.cuijpers@vu.nl

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