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Effectiveness of Long-term Psychodynamic Psychotherapy:  A Meta-analysis

Falk Leichsenring, DSc; Sven Rabung, PhD
JAMA. 2008;300(13):1551-1565. doi:10.1001/jama.300.13.1551.
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Context The place of long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy (LTPP) within psychiatry is controversial. Convincing outcome research for LTPP has been lacking.

Objective To examine the effects of LTPP, especially in complex mental disorders, ie, patients with personality disorders, chronic mental disorders, multiple mental disorders, and complex depressive and anxiety disorders (ie, associated with chronic course and/or multiple mental disorders), by performing a meta-analysis.

Data Sources Studies of LTPP published between January 1, 1960, and May 31, 2008, were identified by a computerized search using MEDLINE, PsycINFO, and Current Contents, supplemented by contact with experts in the field.

Study Selection Only studies that used individual psychodynamic psychotherapy lasting for at least a year, or 50 sessions; had a prospective design; and reported reliable outcome measures were included. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and observational studies were considered. Twenty-three studies involving a total of 1053 patients were included (11 RCTs and 12 observational studies).

Data Extraction Information on study characteristics and treatment outcome was extracted by 2 independent raters. Effect sizes were calculated for overall effectiveness, target problems, general psychiatric symptoms, personality functioning, and social functioning. To examine the stability of outcome, effect sizes were calculated separately for end-of-therapy and follow-up assessment.

Results According to comparative analyses of controlled trials, LTPP showed significantly higher outcomes in overall effectiveness, target problems, and personality functioning than shorter forms of psychotherapy. With regard to overall effectiveness, a between-group effect size of 1.8 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.7-3.4) indicated that after treatment with LTPP patients with complex mental disorders on average were better off than 96% of the patients in the comparison groups (P = .002). According to subgroup analyses, LTPP yielded significant, large, and stable within-group effect sizes across various and particularly complex mental disorders (range, 0.78-1.98).

Conclusions There is evidence that LTPP is an effective treatment for complex mental disorders. Further research should address the outcome of LTPP in specific mental disorders and should include cost-effectiveness analyses.

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Figure 1. Selection of Trials
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See the “Methods” section for study exclusion criteria.

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Figure 2. Effects of Long-term Psychodynamic Psychotherapy on Overall Outcome
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Overall outcome was assessed by averaging the effect sizes of target problems, general psychiatric symptoms, and personality and social functioning. Effect sizes are Hedges d (ie, within-group effect sizes), measured at the beginning and end of therapy. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Studies are stratified into randomized controlled trials (RCTs) vs observational studies (with or without control groups).

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