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Long term changes in defense styles with psychodynamic psychotherapy for depressive, anxiety and personality disorders

Author(s): Bond M, Perry JC


OBJECTIVE: This study examined 1) whether patients with chronic and recurrent anxiety and depressive disorders and/or personality disorders demonstrate improvement in their defense styles with long-term dynamic psychotherapy and 2) what the relationship is between defense style change and symptomatic change. METHOD: Measures of defense (Defense Style Questionnaire) and symptoms and functioning were administered at regular intervals over the course of 3–5 years to adults who entered a naturalistic study of long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy. With hierarchical linear regression, the relative contributions of change in variables on the Defense Style Questionnaire to change in other outcome variables were calculated. RESULTS: Those with high initial scores on the maladaptive and self-sacrificing defense styles improved, with effect sizes of 0.80 and 0.67, while overall defensive functioning improved, with an effect size of 0.43. The effect size of the change in score on the Global Assessment of Functioning scale was 0.82. Depressed subjects improved their scores significantly on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, and there was a significant improvement in distress, as measured by the SCL-90-R. Changes in score on the Defense Style Questionnaire added substantially to the prediction of variance in these three outcomes above their initial levels. A higher level of defensive functioning also predicted a better self-reported therapeutic alliance. CONCLUSIONS: Defense styles became more adaptive and symptoms improved over time in patients who started with scores in the clinical range. Change in defense style predicts symptomatic change, but causation has not been established.

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