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Psychodynamic case formulations without technical language: a reliability study

  • Sørbye, Øystein1
  • Dahl, Hanne-Sofie J.2
  • Eells, Tracy D.3
  • Amlo, Svein
  • Hersoug, Anne Grete4
  • Haukvik, Unn K.4
  • Hartberg, Cecilie B.5
  • Høglend, Per Andreas4
  • Ulberg, Randi5, 4
  • 1 Oslo University Hospital, Division of Mental Health and Addiction, Oslo, Norway , Oslo (Norway)
  • 2 Vestfold Hospital Trust, Division of Mental Health and Addiction, Tønsberg, 3103, Norway , Tønsberg (Norway)
  • 3 University of Louisville, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Louisville, KY, USA , Louisville (United States)
  • 4 University of Oslo, Division of Mental Health and Addiction, Vinderen, 0319, Norway , Vinderen (Norway)
  • 5 Diakonhjemmet Hospital, Department of Psychiatry, Diakonveien 12, Oslo, 0370, Norway , Oslo (Norway)
Published Article
BMC Psychology
BioMed Central
Publication Date
Oct 24, 2019
DOI: 10.1186/s40359-019-0337-5
Springer Nature


BackgroundTo bridge the gap between symptoms and treatment, constructing case formulations is essential for clinicians. Limited scientific value has been attributed to case formulations because of problems with quality, reliability, and validity. For understanding, communication, and treatment planning beyond each specific clinician-patient dyad, a case formulation must convey valid information concerning the patient, as well as being a reliable source of information regardless of the clinician’s theoretical orientation. The first aim of the present study is to explore the completeness of unstructured psychodynamic formulations, according to four components outlined in the Case Formulation Content Coding Method (CFCCM). The second aim is to estimate the reliability of independent formulations and their components, using similarity ratings of matched versus mismatched cases.MethodsThis study explores psychodynamic case formulations as made by two or more experienced clinicians after listening to an evaluation interview. The clinicians structured the formulations freely, with the sole constraint that technical, theory-laden terminology should be avoided. The formulations were decomposed into components after all formulations had been written.ResultsThe results indicated that most formulations were adequately comprehensive, and that overall reliability of the formulations was high (> 0.70) for both experienced and inexperienced clinician raters, although the lower bound reliability estimate of the formulation component deemed most difficult to rate - inferred mechanisms - was marginal, 0.61.ConclusionsThese results were achieved on case formulations made by experienced clinicians using simple experience-near language and minimizing technical concepts, which indicate a communicative quality in the formulations that make them clinically sound.Trial Identifier: NCT00423462. 10.1007/s00432-018-2781-7., January 18, 2007.

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