ArticlePDF Available

Translating CBT for Voices into a Program for Carers: A Pilot Study

Authors:

Abstract and Figures

The treatment of persisting psychotic symptoms with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBTp) is now established as an evidence-based treatment; however its availability remains limited. We piloted a novel CBTp skills-based group training program for carers. The aim was to reduce service users' auditory hallucinations severity through carers' use of basic CBTp methods in their regular interactions. Eight carer-service user dyads and one carer-carer-service user triad participated. Carers attended the 10-week (25-hour) program, and completed measures of subjective burden and expressed emotion (EE) over a 30-week period that included a baseline phase prior to the training and implementation phase. Service users completed weekly interviews assessing voice symptomatology. Analyses were conducted for each dyad using time-series methods. The training program was rated highly. Improvements in symptoms and carer burden ranged from none to clinically significant across different dyads. Carer implementation of strategies was related to reduced symptoms in one dyad; reductions in EE were related to symptom improvements in two dyads. There may be benefits in training carers in behavioural and cognitive management of persisting hallucinations. Possible mechanisms for improvements in voice symptomatology include reduction in carers' EE, and carer implementation of strategies taught.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 2012, 40, 117–123
First published online 9 September 2011 doi:10.1017/S1352465811000348
Translating CBT for Voices into a Program for Carers:
A Pilot Study
Janet Maxwell
La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia
John Farhall
La Trobe University and North Western Mental Health, Melbourne, Australia
Thomas Matyas
La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia
Background: The treatment of persisting psychotic symptoms with cognitive behavioural
therapy (CBTp) is now established as an evidence-based treatment; however its availability
remains limited. We piloted a novel CBTp skills-based group training program for carers.
The aim was to reduce service users’ auditory hallucinations severity through carers’ use of
basic CBTp methods in their regular interactions. Method: Eight carer-service user dyads
and one carer-carer-service user triad participated. Carers attended the 10-week (25-hour)
program, and completed measures of subjective burden and expressed emotion (EE) over
a 30-week period that included a baseline phase prior to the training and implementation
phase. Service users completed weekly interviews assessing voice symptomatology. Analyses
were conducted for each dyad using time-series methods. Results: The training program was
rated highly. Improvements in symptoms and carer burden ranged from none to clinically
significant across different dyads. Carer implementation of strategies was related to reduced
symptoms in one dyad; reductions in EE were related to symptom improvements in two
dyads. Conclusions: There may be benefits in training carers in behavioural and cognitive
management of persisting hallucinations. Possible mechanisms for improvements in voice
symptomatology include reduction in carers’ EE, and carer implementation of strategies
taught.
Keywords: Cognitive behavioural therapy, psychosis, carers, training, auditory hallucinations.
Reprint requests to John Farhall, School of Psychological Science, La Trobe University, VIC 3086, Australia.
E-mail: j.farhall@latrobe.edu.au An extended version is also available online in the table of contents for this issue:
http://journals.cambridge.org/jid_BCP
© British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies 2011
118 J. Maxwell et al.
Introduction
Treatment of psychotic symptoms with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBTp) has established
efficacy); however, the availability of such treatment remains restricted outside of the
United Kingdom. A case study of delivery of informal cognitive therapy to an individual
with schizophrenia by a family carer (George, Bandopadhay and Cowan, 2005) raises the
possibility that dissemination of CBTp may be possible through training carers - a method that
may be particularly useful for difficult-to-engage service users. The aim of this study was to
evaluate a course that aimed to skill carers of individuals who hear voices to better assist their
ill relative to cope with, and possibly reduce, persisting voices. The skills were based on CBTp
components but were to be implemented through carers’ daily interactions with their relative,
rather than through formal therapy sessions and “therapeutic” relationship. A valuable by-
product of such a course may be an improvement in carer-service user relationships, resulting
from more informed and helpful communication about persisting symptoms. The study
addressed the following research questions: Can the delivery of skills training in psychological
management strategies for voices delivered to carers reduce the severity of service users’
voices? Furthermore (while not a target of intervention), does the delivery of such a training
program result in changes in carer expressed emotion (EE) and subjective burden? Finally; if
changes are observed in service user symptomatology, are these associated with carers’ use of
psychological management strategies or altered carer expressed emotion?
Method
Approvals were obtained from the relevant La Trobe University and Melbourne Health Ethics
Committees. Both members of each carer-service user dyad gave informed consent.
Participants
Eligibility criteria were: a DSM-IV diagnosis of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder and
6 months persistence of hallucinations whilst on stable medication. Eligible carers were family
members who had five or more contacts per week with their relative. Nine carers aged between
34 and 65 years, and 8 voice-hearing relatives aged between 19 and 40 years participated in the
study (8 carer-service user dyads and one carer-carer-service user triad). Duration of illness
ranged from 2 to 7 years, and number of hospitalizations from 2 to 10.
Measures
The Psychotic Symptom Rating Scale (PSYRATS; Haddock, McCarron, Tarrier and Faragher,
1999) was used to measure hallucinations severity. The Family Questionnaire (FQ) was used
to assess Carers’ Expressed Emotion (Wiedemann, Rayki, Feinstein and Hahlweg, 2002) and
the Involvement Evaluation Questionnaire (IEQ; van Wijngaarden et al., 2000) to measure
carer subjective burden. The number and frequency of cognitive and behavioural strategies
implemented by carers was recorded by a self-report checklist completed on a daily basis
during the 10 weeks training. Carer feedback was recorded in the final session via a course
evaluation questionnaire.
CBT for voices and a program for carers 119
Design and procedure
A within-subjects, multiple-baseline, repeated-measures design was selected to accommodate
small numbers and allow for the assessment of individual differences in efficacy. The study
had two phases: a 10-week baseline phase followed by a 20-week training and implementation
phase (comprising 10, weekly, 21
/2hour interactive sessions, and a further 10 weeks, in which
carers were encouraged to continue using strategies learned). Voice phenomenology measures
were obtained from service users via brief weekly interviews for the 30 weeks of the study.
The IEQ and FQ were completed by carers weekly.
Intervention
The 10-session program combined education and experiential exercises on the experience of
voice-hearing, how to communicate effectively about voices, and behavioural and cognitive
strategies for coping with voices (including coping strategy enhancement, belief change,
generating alternative explanations). A program manual is available upon request.
Analysis
Statistical analyses used SPSS 14 for Windows. For primary outcome variables, scores were
converted into a percentage of the maximum score. The time-series data for each participant
were studied in baseline and intervention phases, and models (with confidence intervals) fitted
for each phase. Outcomes were measured by statistically (α<0.05), and clinically (greater
than 10% improvement), significant differences between baseline and intervention phases.
Due to the small number of time-series data points, confidence intervals were calculated
conservatively, using standard error values multiplied by critical values of the t-distribution
(based on 0.05 level of significance on a two-tailed test). Linear regressions were run to
investigate the relationship between carer strategy use and voice severity.
Results
Inter-rater reliability
A subsample of the PSYRATS data was co-rated by an independent provisional psychologist,
experienced in PSYRATS assessment and blind to study phase, yielding an almost perfect
correlation (PSYRATS total score r=0.998, t=55.89, p=.00).
Acceptability of the intervention
Carers’ feedback indicated high levels of acceptability (mean satisfaction rating 9.78/
10, ±0.35), but wide individual variation in rating ease of implementation of strategies
(from 5–10/10, μ=7, ±1.34). Qualitative feedback suggested that cognitive strategies
(e.g. discussing beliefs about voices) were more difficult to implement than behavioural
strategies.
120 J. Maxwell et al.
Carer strategy use
Carers reported their implementation of strategies on a daily checklist. Behavioural
strategies taught were: encouraging use of distraction, sub-vocalization, competing auditory
stimuli, self-instruction activity; encouraging changes in level of social contact; minimizing
stressors/triggers; and altering the environment. Cognitive strategies were: encouraging
distancing from voices; identifying beliefs about voices with relative; exploring evidence for
or against beliefs about voices; testing a belief by behavioural experiment; and identifying
alternative explanations. All carers reported using at least six of the eight behavioural
strategies, and at least two of the five cognitive strategies at some time during the training
and implementation phase.
Reduction in voice severity was associated with greater carer strategy use, for 5 out of 7
dyads; however, with the exception of one dyad – Service User 6 (t=−3.54, p=.01) whose
voice severity changed substantially – these relationships were not statistically significant. A
moderate negative correlation approaching statistical significance was identified for Service
User 2 (t=−2.03, p=.08).
Voice severity
Service User 1 reported voices at too few points for time-series analysis (3/10 weeks of
baseline; reducing to 3/20 weeks in training and follow-up phase). The mean differences in
voice severity (PSYRATS) between the baseline phase and the training and implementation
phase for service users 2–7, based on individual time series analyses, are presented in
Figure 1. Clinically significant improvements in voice severity were identified for Service
User 7 (t=4.217, p=.00), and Service User 6 (t=2.90, p=.009). Service users 2, 3, 4
and 5 did not show clinically or statistically significant improvements in voice severity in the
training and implementation phase.
Expressed emotion
Carers 6 and 7 showed clinically significant reductions in EE in the training and
implementation phase of the study (t=4.53, p=.00; t=12.52, p=.00, respectively), with
Carers 4 a and 4b showing statistically significant reductions (t=9.11, p=.00; t=8.29, p=
.00 respectively). Carers 2 and 5 showed a statistically, but not clinically significant reduction
in expressed emotion in the training and implementation phase of the study (t=2.43, p=.02;
t=3.11, p=.00 respectively), with Carer 1 and Carer 8 showing no statistically significant
change. Model fitting was not possible for Carer 3 due to fluctuating scores.
Burden
Five of the eight carers showed a statistically significant reduction in burden between the
baseline phase and the training and implementation phase. Carer 7 showed a clinically
significant reduction in Subjective burden with a mean reduction of 25.6% in the training and
implementation phase (t=12.94, p=.00). Carers 4 a and 4b and carers 1 and 6 all showed
statistically significant reductions (t=10.22, p=.00; t=10.11, p=.00; t=3.07, p=.005;
t=2.90, p=.008, respectively), but only the latter two approached clinical significance.
CBT for voices and a program for carers 121
Figure 1. Service user voice severity: mean differences from baseline to training and implementation
phase (with confidence intervals)
Discussion
This study evaluated the feasibility and impact of a course that taught CBT skills to carers of
voice hearers. The program was clearly acceptable: carers reported high levels of satisfaction,
an ability to understand the concepts and strategies, and an intention to continue using
these after the program. The feasibility of carers implementing naturalistic behavioural and
cognitive intervention strategies was also supported: all carers implemented at least 9 of the
13 strategies taught.
The statistically and clinically significant improvements for two of the six service users
with time series data support our hypothesis that voice severity can be impacted by an
intervention that works through carers, rather than directly with the service users. The
proportion improving, if replicated in larger studies, is within the range of outcomes for
therapist-implemented CBTp (Gaudiano, 2005). Rather than the training adding to the burden
of carers, a majority experienced reduced subjective burden. Given that reductions in burden
have been rarely reported in the family intervention for psychosis literature, this raises the
possibility that the explanatory models and specific skills of the intervention gave carers
confidence to interact more effectively with service users about voices.
The results support more than one model of change in voice severity. The primary model
of the study, that service user coping would improve, received some support: there was
an association between an increase in carers’ encouragement of psychological management
strategies and reduced voice severity, particularly for one dyad. It is possible that the analysis
undertaken (correlations between weekly ratings of voice severity and extent of carer strategy
122 J. Maxwell et al.
use that week) may have been insensitive by not allowing for any time lag between the carers’
suggestion of a strategy and the service users’ application(s) of it.
An alternative explanation for reductions in service user voice severity is via reduction
in carers’ EE. Despite not being a direct target of the intervention, clinically significant
improvements in EE were identified for two carers, and in each case their voice hearing
relative showed clinically significant improvements in voice severity. Reductions in EE may
have occurred through increased carer confidence from skills acquisition or via a shift in
illness attributions (Barrowclough, Johnston and Tarrier, 1994) resulting from improved
understanding about the nature of psychotic experiences. If supported by future studies,
these results would strengthen the case for the importance of symptom-specific psycho-
education in family interventions. These results also raise a question regarding the specific
effects of behavioural and cognitive strategies over and above any contribution from improved
relationships and symptom-specific education.
Limitations
Recruitment of a small, self-selected sample limits the generalizability of the results; however,
the difficulty in recruiting consenting pairs of service users and carers, and the evaluation
demands on participants precluded a larger scale pilot. Nonetheless, the study took an
important and realistic first step in establishing a treatment effect when carers are trained to
informally use behavioural and cognitive change interventions with voice hearers. Inclusion
in future studies of specific measures of carer confidence, relationships and attributions, and
the tracking of service user implementation of strategies would enable further assessment of
these possible mechanisms of action.
Conclusions
The present pilot study provides promising results indicating that training family carers in
basic principles and strategies of CBT for psychosis is possible, highly acceptable, and
can result in clinically significant improvements in service user voice symptomatology, and
reduction in carer burden. The course thus has the potential to redress, in a naturalistic way,
two of the practical challenges to dissemination of clinician-delivered CBTp - difficulties with
service user engagement, and access to therapy.
References
Barrowclough, C., Johnston, M. and Tarrier, N. (1994). Attributions, expressed emotion, and patient
relapse: an attributional model of relatives’ response to schizophrenic illness. Behavior Therapy, 25,
67–88.
Gaudiano, B. A. (2005). Cognitive behavior therapies for psychotic disorders: current empirical status
and future directions. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 12, 33–50. doi:10.1093/clipsy/
bpi004.
George, S., Bandopadhay, S. and Cowan, C. (2005). A case report of informal cognitive therapy
of delusions by a carer: a novel treatment paradigm? European Psychiatry, 20, 80–81. doi:10.1016/
j.eurpsy.2004.09.027.
CBT for voices and a program for carers 123
Haddock, G., McCarron, J., Tarrier, N. and Faragher, E. B. (1999). Scales to measure dimensions
of hallucinations and delusions: the Psychotic Symptom Rating Scales (PSYRATS). Psychological
Medicine, 29, 879–889. doi:10.1017/S0033291799008661.
van Wijngaarden, B., Schene, A. H., Koeter, M., Vazquez-Barquero, J. L., Knudsen, H. C.,
Lasalvia, A., McCrone, P. and Group, E. S. (2000). Caregiving in schizophrenia: development,
internal consistency and reliability of the Involvement Evaluation Questionnaire-European Version:
EPSILON Study 4. British Journal of Psychiatry, 177, s21–s27. doi:10.1192/bjp.177.39.s21.
Wiedemann, G., Rayki, O., Feinstein, E. and Hahlweg, K. (2002). The Family Questionniare:
development and validation of a new self-report scale for assessing expressed emotion. Psychiatry
Research, 109, 265–279.
... Cognitive Psychotherapy (CBT) , specifically, has been described as an effective intervention in reducing positive symptoms (especially in controlling delusions and hallucinations), symptoms concerning emotional disturbances, enhancing the feeling of control upon the illness, increasing self-esteem and instilling hope into the patient (Papakostas, 1994; Fowler et al., 1995; Chadwick & Birchwood, 1996; Jones et al., 1998; Boulougouris, 1998; Nelson et al., 2005; Garety et al., 2001 Garety et al., , 2008 Beck et al., 2009; Bechdolf et al., 2011; Berry & Hayward, 2011; Hagen et al., 2011; Hutton et al., 2012; Maxwell et al., 2012). Recent studies support the effectiveness of CBT in schizophrenia, either during the acute phase (Drury & Birchwood, 1996; Allot et al.,2011) or in the case of a medication resistant disorder. ...
Article
Full-text available
Background: The aim of this case presentations is to demonstrate the benefits of a CBT intervention in a patient with schizophrenia of the chronic residual type. It'll be further demonstrated how the presenting complaints of the patient were formulated and treated integrating a range of formulation driven CBT models and techniques. Materials and Methods: CBT therapy involved 30 weekly 35-minute sessions which had 5 distinct phases described, spanning approximately 9 months (basic therapeutic process). Furthermore, the patient received further treatment for another two years with 3-month follow-up CBT sessions. Last he was evaluated one year after the end of the follow-up sessions. At the beginning and the end both of the basic therapeutic process, of the follow-up sessions and one year after the end of the follow-up sessions the patient was further assessed with: the Trail Making A and Trail Making B for visuospatial attention and executive functions, Stroop Neuropsychological Screening Test for selective attention, Rey Auditory Verbal Learning test (RAVLT) for verbal memory span and efficiency of learning, the PANSS for current psychopathology and the Global Assesment of Functioning Scale (GAF). Results: After the end of the 30 weekly sessions the patient exhibited significant improvement in the PANSS negative symptoms and general psychopathology scores as well as the level of anxiety and functioning. The benefits were maintained and were even on occasion improved at the end of the follow-up sessions;
Article
Full-text available
Background In international research on the consequences of psychiatric illnesses for relatives of patients, the need for an internationally standardised measure has been identified. Aims To test the internal consistency and the test-retest reliability of the Involvement Evaluation Questionnaire (IEQ) in five European countries. Method The IEQ was administered twice to a sample of relatives or friends of patients with an ICD-10 diagnosis of schizophrenia. Reliability was tested using Cronbach's α , intraclass correlation coefficients and standard error of measurement. Reliability estimates were tested between sites. Results Test sample sizes ranged from 30 to 90 across sites, and retest sample sizes ranged from 21 to 77. Cronbach's α values of IEQ sub-scales and sumscore were substantial at most sites; but at two, α values were moderate. Intraclass correlation coefficients were substantial to high at all sites. The standard errors of measurement differed across sites, indicating differences in performance. Conclusion The reliability of the IEQ in five languages varies across sites, but is sufficiently high in at least four out of five.
Article
Full-text available
Scales to measure the severity of different dimensions of auditory hallucinations and delusions are few. Biochemical and psychological treatments target dimensions of symptoms and valid and reliable measures are necessary to measure these. The inter-rater reliability and validity of the Psychotic Symptom Rating Scales (PSYRATS: auditory hallucination subscale and delusions subscale), which measure several dimensions of auditory hallucinations and delusions were examined in this study. The two scales were found to have excellent inter-rater reliability. Their validity as compared with the KGV scale (Krawiecka et al. 1977) was explored. It is concluded that the PSYRATS are useful assessment instruments and can complement existing measures.
Article
Full-text available
In international research on the consequences of psychiatric illnesses for relatives of patients, the need for an internationally standardised measure has been identified. To test the internal consistency and the test-retest reliability of the Involvement Evaluation Questionnaire (IEQ) in five European countries. The IEQ was administered twice to a sample of relatives or friends of patients with an ICD-10 diagnosis of schizophrenia. Reliability was tested using Cronbach's alpha, intraclass correlation coefficients and standard error of measurement. Reliability estimates were tested between sites. Test sample sizes ranged from 30 to 90 across sites, and retest sample sizes ranged from 21 to 77. Cronbach's alpha values of IEQ sub-scales and sumscore were substantial at most sites; but at two, alpha values were moderate. Intraclass correlation coefficients were substantial to high at all sites. The standard errors of measurement differed across sites, indicating differences in performance. The reliability of the IEQ in five languages varies across sites, but is sufficiently high in at least four out of five.
Article
Full-text available
The level of expressed emotion (EE) as assessed in the Camberwell Family Interview (CFI) has proved to be one of the best predictors of relapse in schizophrenia. The present study describes the development and validation of the Family Questionnaire (FQ), a brief self-report questionnaire measuring the EE status (criticism, emotional overinvolvement) of relatives of patients with schizophrenia. The FQ classifications in the initial sample of relatives (N=76) correlated significantly with the ratings in the CFI subcategories 'criticism' (78% correct classifications) and 'emotional overinvolvement' (71% correct classifications), as well as with the overall CFI EE ratings (74% correct classifications). A validation study in an independent second sample (N=79) yielded similar results. The overall correct classification rate of 74% remained unchanged. The FQ had better agreement with the CFI on emotional overinvolvement than did other short EE questionnaires.
Article
Although cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) has strong empirical support for treating a diverse array of psychological conditions, only recently has research begun to examine its efficacy in treating the symptoms associated with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. Several randomized controlled trials have been conducted on CBT for psychosis with some positive results, but trials comparing CBT to other nonspecific interventions have yielded less impressive findings. No well-controlled trial to date has attempted to dismantle the components of CBT for psychosis, to compare it to another empirically supported psychosocial intervention for this population, or to identify the specific mechanisms responsible for treatment effectiveness. In this paper, a review of the empirical status of CBT for psychosis is presented. In addition, promising but preliminary new research in this area is reviewed, including prevention and early intervention approaches and acceptance/mindfulness-based strategies. Within this context, limitations in the current literature are reviewed, and recommendations for future research are discussed.
Article
This study examines the concept of Expressed Emotion (EE) and tests the utility of an attributional model in understanding why relatives differ in their responses and attitudes to sufferers of schizophrenia, and how causal beliefs of family members might mediate relapse in patients.High EE relatives made more attributions about illness than did low EE. Within the high EE group, relatives with marked emotional overinvolvement were similar to the low EE group, with problems attributed to factors more external to and uncontrollable by the patient. Relatives with high criticism gave more causes internal to the patient and hostile relatives also tended to perceive the causes to be controllable by and personal to the sufferers of schizophrenia. Illness chronicity and severity was associated with more causal search. Attribution variables were better predictors of patient relapse at nine months follow-up than were EE measures.
Article
Cognitive therapy has been effectively used in the treatment of psychotic symptoms like delusions and hallucinations. Most of the work in this area has focused only on the patient. We describe a patient with schizophrenia, whose delusions were well managed by his mother using informal cognitive therapy principles. Primary carers could be more involved as 'co-therapists' in the cognitive treatment of psychotic symptoms in some patients. Future work needs to explore the effectiveness and feasibility of more structured cognitive therapy input for carers (as co-therapists) of patients with psychosis.