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

Giorgio A. Tasca


blogTherapists’ Appropriate Responsiveness to Clients

Stiles, W.B. & Horvath, A.O. (2017). Appropriate responsiveness as a contribution to therapist effects. In L. Castonguay and C. Hill (Eds.). How and why some therapists are better than others?: Understanding therapist effects (Ch. 4). Washington: American Psychological Association.

Appropriate responsiveness refers to therapists’ ability to adapt their techniques to the client’s requirements and circumstances. This might include planning treatment based on how the client is responding, using the client’s evolving responses to treatment as a guide to interventions, and adjusting interventions already in progress in light of subtle signs of client uptake. Appropriate responsiveness may depend on a client’s diagnosis, education, personality, stage of life, values, stage of therapy, among others. Responsiveness also depends on therapists’ skills, personality, theoretical orientation, and history of the therapeutic relationship. In this chapter, Stiles and Horvath review the literature on relationship variables that predict therapy outcomes and interpret these findings in the context of therapist responsiveness. To illustrate, previous research showed that therapists’ rigid adherence to a treatment manual was associated with worse client outcomes – or to state it differently, therapist adherence flexibility was associated with better outcomes. This flexibility is an indication of appropriate responsiveness on the part of the therapist. Stiles and Horvath also argue that most of the relationship variables that predict client outcomes reflect whether therapists appropriately respond to the circumstances of the client at a particular point in therapy. That is, evidence-based relationship factors like alliance, cohesion, empathy, goal consensus, positive regard, and others evaluate whether the therapist successfully tailored interventions and behaviors to the client’s unique personality and circumstances. For example, therapeutic alliance (the affective bond, and agreement on tasks and goals of therapy) indicates that the therapist selected interventions that were appropriate to the client, introduced them at the right time, and was attentive to and interested in the client’s progress. In support of this, the authors cite research showing that the therapeutic alliance is largely a function of the therapists’ responsiveness and not the client’s characteristics. That is, therapists are largely responsible for the quality of the therapeutic alliance.

Practice Implications
Research is increasingly indicating that therapists’ ability to respond appropriately to clients on a moment-to-moment basis is a key therapeutic factor. In other words, therapists who can build strong alliances, repair alliance ruptures, work for goal consensus and collaboration, manage countertransference, and be empathic are those who respond to the changing nature of client characteristics and needs in therapy. Supervision that provides feedback to therapists on these therapeutic factors, mastering a framework to guide interventions, client progress monitoring and feedback, and acquiring knowledge of client personality and cultural factors can sensitise therapists to their client’s changing requirements and allow them to respond therapeutically.

Click here for chapter abstract.

Author email: stileswb@miamioh.edu

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blogTherapeutic Alliance in the Treatment of Adolescents

Murphy, R. & Hutton, P. (2017). Therapist variability, patient reported therapeutic alliance, and clinical outcomes in adolescents undergoing mental health treatment: A systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, doi:10.1111/jcpp.12767.

The therapeutic alliance refers to the affective bond between therapist and client, and their agreement on the tasks and goals of therapy. The alliance is a well-known predictor of outcomes in adult psychotherapy with a mean alliance-outcome correlation of r = .28. Less is known about the role of the alliance in the treatment of adolescents. Some reviews indicate that the alliance-outcome relationship in children and adolescents is weaker than observed among adults, but these reviews may have been flawed since they included both children and adolescents in the same review, and the number of studies they reviewed was small. A large rigorous systematic review of adolescents’ perceptions of the alliance can provide insight into their experience of psychological treatment and inform routine mental health practice. In their meta analysis, Murphy and Hutton reviewed studies of clinical samples of adolescents between the age of 12 – 19 who received psychological treatment. The authors made sure that the measures of alliance and outcomes were reliable, they excluded studies of those with medical and neurocognitive problems, and included only studies with adolescents (i.e., excluding studies with primarily children). Twenty-seven studies with almost 3,000 participants were included. Main presenting problems of adolescent patients were: substance use, eating disorders, behavioral difficulties, and a range of mood and anxiety disorders. The mean weighted effect size of the alliance-outcome relationship among studies of psychological treatment of adolescents was r = .29 (95% CI: 0.21, 0.37; p < .001) indicating a moderate effect.

Practice Implication
This is the largest meta analysis of the alliance-outcome relationship in the psychological treatment of adolescents with mental health problems. The alliance was moderately associated with outcomes, and so therapeutic alliance may be a reliable predictor of clinical progress in the treatment of adolescents. The findings suggest that those working with adolescents should routinely assess the alliance after each session in order to evaluate if they need to address relational barriers to positive outcomes. For example, if the alliance markedly declines from one session to the next, then clinicians should address potential problems in their relationship with the adolescent client, renegotiate goals, or renegotiate the tasks of therapy.

Click here for article abstract.
Author email: regina.murphy.email@gmail.com

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blogGroup Psychotherapy for Eating Disorders

Grenon, R., Schwartze, D., Hammond, N., Ivanova, I., Mcquaid, N., Proulx, G., & Tasca, G.A. (2017). Group psychotherapy for eating disorders: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Eating Disorders. DOI: 10.1002/eat.22744

Group therapy has an evidence base indicating its efficacy for many disorders. Groups represent a social microcosm in which interpersonal factors that underlie psychological distress and symptoms can be effectively addressed. Group therapeutic factors include peer interpersonal feedback, social learning, emotional expression, and group cohesion. Theories of eating disorder symptoms include interpersonal problems and affect dysregulation as maintenance factors. Many treatment guidelines indicate that individual and group CBT are the treatments of choice for eating disorders. However, there are no meta analyses that specifically look at the efficacy of group therapy for eating disorders. In this study, Grenon and colleagues assess if: (a) group psychotherapy for eating disorders is efficacious compared to wait-list controls, (b) group therapy is effective compared to other active treatments (self help, individual therapy, medications), and (c) group CBT is more effective than other types of group therapy (group interpersonal therapy [GIPT], group psychodynamic-interpersonal psychotherapy [GPIP], or group dialectical behavior therapy [GDBT]). The authors reviewed 27 randomized controlled trials with over 1800 patients that provided direct comparisons of group therapy for eating disorders. The mean drop out rate from group therapy was 16.47% (SD = 13.46), which is similar to what is reported for psychotherapy trials in general. Group therapy was significantly more effective than wait list controls in achieving abstinence from binge eating and purging (RR = 5.51, 95% CI: 3.73, 8.12), decreasing the frequency of binge eating and/or purging (g = 0.70, 95% CI: 0.51, 0.90), and reducing related psychopathology (g = 0.49, 95% CI: 0.32, 0.66). Group psychotherapy had an overall rate of abstinence from binge eating of 51.38%, while wait-list control conditions had an overall abstinence rate of 6.51%. Similar findings were achieved a follow-ups. The effects of group psychotherapy and other active treatments (e.g., behavioral weight loss, self-help, individual psychotherapy) did not differ on any outcome at post-treatment or at follow-ups. Group CBT and other forms of group psychotherapy did not differ significantly on outcomes at any time point.

Practice Implications
The results add to a growing body of research that indicates that group psychotherapy is as effective as other treatments, including individual therapy, to treat mental disorders. Despite the fact that practice guidelines indicate that CBT is the treatment of choice for eating disorders, this meta analysis did not provide evidence that group CBT was more effective than other types of group treatments. Clinicians considering group interventions for eating disorders or other mental health problems will do well to make use of group therapeutic factors like interpersonal learning, peer feedback, emotional expression, and group cohesion to improve patient outcomes.

Click here for article abstract.
Author email: gtasca@uottawa.ca.