New Study Tests the Effectiveness of Therapeutic Objectives Scale

The Achievement of Therapeutic Objectives Scale (ATOS) is a tool used to measure how well a client is achieving desired treatment outcomes in short-term dynamic psychotherapy (STDP). The tool has also been used to validate other treatment methods, including cognitive therapy (CT). But there is little research examining the effectiveness of ATOS for CT, especially when used by clinicians with little experience. Jakob Valen of the Department of Psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology recently led a study designed to ascertain if rater reliability would remain stable across varying levels of clinician experience and varying types of treatment. Gauging a client’s progress is not only beneficial for the client, but also for the clinicians so that they can assess their own delivery methods and skill level at accommodating the needs of their clients. Additionally, testing the validity of the ATOS allows experts to determine precisely how much training clinicians need in order to accurately measure outcome levels.

Valen and his colleagues assessed 50 clients with Cluster C personality disorders in 40 sessions of either CT or STDP for their study. The researchers recruited 3 psychologists and 11 graduate students to act as the raters, and had them review videotaped sessions of the therapy. The graduate students had only 8 hours of training on the ATOS, but their results were nearly identical to the reports of the licensed psychologists. The team found that both the experienced and novice raters produced similar results of achievement using the ATOS for both STDP and CT. “The results indicate that an 8-hr training course with the ATOS may suffice for raters to achieve adequate levels of inter-rater reliability, even for raters with little previous clinical experience,” said Valen. “This may be taken as evidence that the ATOS rating procedure can be learned quite easily, without the need for an extensive training period.” He added, “The results largely support the notion that the ATOS measures constructs that may be reliably observed and rated and are sensitive to change in theoretically expected ways in both STDP and CT.”

Valen, J., Ryum, T., Svartberg, M., Stiles, T. C., & McCullough, L. (2011, April 25). The Achievement of Therapeutic Objectives Scale: Interrater Reliability and Sensitivity to Change in Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy and Cognitive Therapy. Psychological Assessment. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0023649

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Abraham


    October 18th, 2011 at 8:59 PM

    Interesting to see that even fresh graduates were capable enough to relate it just as well as the experienced professionals.And I think the reason for this is because although training is both necessary and important,there is an inherent characteristic that lets a person rate it accurately enough.Its more like the perception is better for some people than others.

  • floating water

    floating water

    October 19th, 2011 at 12:24 PM

    Gauging the effectiveness of a therapy session is something that is open to the viewer’s opinion and experience. So if they churn out students who rote and ‘learn’ the same things then their gauging will be similar too. Also, the similarity between old professionals and newer ones says that there has been no real big change in the practice and methods basically. On the whole, the findings of this report are actually discouraging if you ask me.

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