Identifying the most suitable treatment for depression based on patients' attachment: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial of supportive-expressive vs. supportive treatments

Sigal Zilcha-Mano, Tohar Dolev, Liat Leibovich, Jacques P. Barber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In the absence of one intervention that can cure all patients with major depressive disorder (MDD), the leading cause of disability worldwide, increased attention has been focused on selecting the best treatment based on patient characteristics. Theory-driven hypotheses for selecting the best treatments have not yet been adequately investigated. The present study tested the a priory hypothesis that attachment orientations may determine whether patients benefit more from a treatment where alliance provides a facilitative environment for the treatment to work, as in the case of supportive-expressive psychotherapy, vs. where alliance is conceptualized as an active ingredient in itself, as in the case of supportive psychotherapy. Method/design: To test the hypothesis that attachment orientation moderates the effect of treatment condition on outcome, we conduct a randomized controlled trial (RCT). One hundred patients are randomized to 16 sessions of either supportive-expressive or supportive psychotherapy for MDD, conducted by experienced psychologists. The primary outcome is change in the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. Secondary outcome measures include self-reported depressive and other symptoms, psychological and interpersonal functioning, quality of life, and the presence of the diagnosis of depression. Additional measures include hormonal levels, motion synchrony, and acoustic attributes, performance on cognitive tasks, and narrative material (collected from the sessions and from interviews). Discussion: The RCT will expand our understanding of how the outcome of treatment can be optimized by identifying the most promising role of alliance in treatment, based on patients' pre-treatment attachment orientation. Results will contribute to the ongoing theoretical debate concerning the differential efficacy of various psychotherapeutic approaches for patients with different attachment orientations. The RCT will also contribute to progress toward personalized treatment by informing therapists about which of two approaches are most effective with patients based on their attachment styles. Trial registration: Identifier: NCT02728557 submitted on the 15.3.16. Funding: The Israel Science Foundation. Trial status: Recruitment is ongoing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number362
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - 12 Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work is supported by the Israel Science Foundation (ISF, Grant no. 186/ 15 to S. Zilcha-Mano).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Author(s).


  • Alliance
  • Attachment
  • Personalized treatment
  • Psychodynamic treatment
  • Supportive expressive treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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