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

PPRNet Blog: September 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


blogNo Added Value to Adding Antidepressants to Psychotherapy

Karyotaki, E., Smit, Y., Henningsen, H., Huibers, M.J.H., Robays, J., de Beurs, D., & Cuijpers, P. (2016). Combining pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy or monotherapy for major depression? A meta-analysis on the long-term effects. Journal of Affective Disorders, 194, 144-152.

Depression is a highly prevalent disorder and is expected to become the second largest cause of disability by 2020. Part of the reason for this high level of burden is that depression tends to be a recurrent disorder with high rates of mortality and morbidity. The post-treatment effects of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy for treating mild to moderate depression are comparable, and combining the two interventions appears to result in better outcomes. Treatment guidelines recommend pharmacotherapy for at least six months to prevent relapse of depressive symptoms. But to what extent does combined antidepressants with psychotherapy result in a different response than pharmacotherapy or psychotherapy alone in the longer term? The meta analysis by Karotaki and colleagues was conducted to address this question. They defined psychotherapy to include any psychological intervention between a therapist and patient that was verbal in nature, and that included in-person, internet-based, telephone, or bibliotherapy components. Types of psychotherapy included CBT, interpersonal, dynamic, and problem solving therapy. Only studies with outcomes at six months or longer (up to 48 months) after the start of treatment were included. The meta analysis included 23 studies with a total of 2164 patients with major depression who receive combined therapy in at least one arm of the study. Antidepressants included SSRIs, SNRIs, and tricyclic medications. In the acute phase treatment (i.e., in studies of treatment during the occurrence of depressive symptoms), combining antidepressants with psychotherapy was more effective than antidepressants alone. But combined treatment was not more effective than psychotherapy alone at six months or longer after the start of treatment. In maintenance treatment (i.e., in studies to prevent relapse of depression) psychotherapy with antidepressants was more effective that pharmacotherapy alone. Type of psychotherapy or medication did not affect any of the results.

Practice Implications

The meta analysis suggests that in the treatment of patients who currently have depressive symptoms (acute phase) psychotherapy alone is as effective in the long run as combining psychotherapy with antidepressants. However combination treatment is more effective than antidepressants alone, presumably because of the added value of psychotherapy. To prevent relapse (maintenance phase), combined treatment of pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy was more effective than antidepressants alone. Psychotherapy may be a viable alternative to combined treatment with medications for treatment of current active depressive symptoms. Psychotherapy often results in patients improving their interpersonal skills and coping mechanisms which they can then use to sustain their improvements in the longer term.

View a copy of the No Added Value to Adding Antidepressants to Psychotherapy abstract.

Author email: e.karyotaki@vu.nl

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blogCognitive Therapy and Dynamic Psychotherapy for Major Depression in a Community Setting

Connolly Gibbons, M.B., Gallop, R., Thompson, D., Luther, D., Crits-Christoph, K., Jacobs, J., Yin, S., & Crits-Christoph, P. (2016). Comparative effectiveness of cognitive therapy and dynamic psychotherapy for major depressive disorder in a community mental health setting: A randomized clinical noninferiority trial. JAMA Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.1720.

Dynamic psychotherapy is widely practiced in the community, but there remain very few trials assessing its effectiveness. Dynamic therapy targets individuals’ problematic relationship conflicts. Cognitive therapy on the other hand has been established as effective for major depression in a number of controlled trials. This study by Connolly Gibbons and colleagues was designed to test if dynamic therapy was equivalent (not inferior) to cognitive therapy in treating major depressive disorder in a community setting. There are two important and novel aspects to this research. First, the study takes place with community-based therapists in a community mental health setting. This means that the usual critique that randomized controlled trials do not speak to what therapists do with real patients in everyday practice is addressed in this study. Second, the sample size is large enough and the study is sufficiently powered so that one can make conclusions about non-inferiority (statistics geeks will know that making a hypothesis of non-inferiority, equivalence, or no difference requires enough power and a large enough sample size – something that is quite rare in psychotherapy trials). Twenty therapists who worked in a community mental health center were trained by experts in dynamic therapy or cognitive therapy. The therapists treated 237 adults with major depressive disorder with 16 sessions of dynamic or cognitive therapy. Therapists were followed the treatment manuals and they were judged by independent raters as competent in delivering the treatment. Patients on average got significantly better regarding depressive symptoms (d = .55 to .65), and there were no significant differences in the rate of improvement between dynamic and cognitive therapy patients (d = .11). There were also no differences between treatments on several measures of quality of life. A noteworthy finding was that about 80% of patients continued to have some depressive symptoms by the end of treatment even though they improved.

Practice Implications

This study adds to research indicating that short-term dynamic psychotherapy is as effective as short term cognitive therapy for treating major depression. The study also indicates that the treatments under intensive supervision and training can be provided effectively by community therapists in real world settings. That 80% of patients continued to have some depressive symptoms suggests that the short term nature of the therapies may not have represented a large enough dose of treatment for most patients.

View a copy of the Cognitive Therapy and Dynamic Psychotherapy for Major Depression in a Community Setting article.

Author email: gibbonsm@mail.med.upenn.edu

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blogInterpersonal Psychotherapy for Mental Health Problems

Cuijpers, P., Donker, T., Weissman, M.M., Ravitz, P., & Cristea, I.A. (2016). Interpersonal psychotherapy for mental health problems: A comprehensive meta-analysis. American Journal of Psychiatry, 173, 680-687.

Interpersonal psychotherapy is a structured therapy that was originally developed for the treatment of depression. The therapy focuses on stressful life events like grief, interpersonal disputes, life transitions, social isolation or deficits that may cause symptoms. Interpersonal psychotherapy also helps people to connect with social supports and improve their relationships. The treatment emphasizes developing a therapeutic alliance, psychoeducation, and choosing an interpersonal focus. Recently, several trials have been conducted to assess the efficacy of interpersonal psychotherapy for other mental health problems like addictions, eating and anxiety disorders. In this comprehensive meta analysis, Cuijpers and colleagues looked at all randomized controlled trials of interpersonal psychotherapy for any mental disorder. The review included 90 studies representing over 11,000 patients. Most of the studies targeted depression, but some studies used interpersonal psychotherapy to treat other disorders. The effect size of the difference between interpersonal psychotherapy and control conditions was moderately large (g = 0.60), indicating that interpersonal psychotherapy was efficacious. Interpersonal psychotherapy was as effective as other psychotherapies (g = 0.06), and as effective as antidepressant medications (g = -0.13). Combined interpersonal psychotherapy and medications was more effective than interpersonal psychotherapy alone, but the effect size of the difference was small (g = 0.24). The combination of monthly maintenance interpersonal therapy plus daily pharmacotherapy was significantly more effective in preventing relapse of depression compared to pharmacotherapy alone or interpersonal psychotherapy alone (odds ratios between 0.34 and 0.36 with confidence intervals not crossing 0). The effects of interpersonal psychotherapy for eating disorders was mixed largely because of the small number of studies and lower quality of studies. For anxiety disorders, interpersonal psychotherapy was as effective as other treatments (g = -0.16) and more effective than control conditions (g = 0.82).

Practice Implications

Interpersonal psychotherapy showed moderate to large effects in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders, and it was as effective as other interventions. Interpersonal psychotherapy may be effective for eating disorders as well, though the evidence is less clear. Patients and providers need to have more treatment options since no one treatment is effective for all patients. The relationship emphasis of interpersonal psychotherapy provides an important alternative to medications or cognitive behavioral therapy for some patients.

View a copy of the Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Mental Health Problems abstract.

Author email: p.cuijpers@vu.nl

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