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Psychother Res. 2013;23(1):1-13. doi: 10.1080/10503307.2012.693773. Epub 2012 Jun 18.

Is the relation between early post-session reports and treatment outcome an epiphenomenon of intake distress and early response? A multi-predictor analysis in outpatient psychotherapy.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.


The early phase of psychotherapy has been regarded as a sensitive period in the unfolding of psychotherapy leading to positive outcomes. However, there is disagreement about the degree to which early (especially relationship-related) session experiences predict outcome over and above initial levels of distress and early response to treatment. The goal of the present study was to simultaneously examine outcome at post treatment as a function of (a) intake symptom and interpersonal distress as well as early change in well-being and symptoms, (b) the patient's early session-experiences, (c) the therapist's early session-experiences/interventions, and (d) their interactions. The data of 430 psychotherapy completers treated by 151 therapists were analyzed using hierarchical linear models. Results indicate that early positive intra- and interpersonal session experiences as reported by patients and therapists after the sessions explained 58% of variance of a composite outcome measure, taking intake distress and early response into account. All predictors (other than problem-activating therapists' interventions) contributed to later treatment outcomes if entered as single predictors. However, the multi-predictor analyses indicated that interpersonal distress at intake as well as the early interpersonal session experiences by patients and therapists remained robust predictors of outcome. The findings underscore that early in therapy therapists (and their supervisors) need to understand and monitor multiple interconnected components simultaneously.

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