Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change: Starting in March 2013 I will review one chapter a month from the Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change in addition to reviewing psychotherapy research articles. Book chapters have more restrictive copy right rules than journal articles, so I will not provide author email addresses for these chapters. If you are interested, the Handbook table of content and sections of the book can be read on Google Books.
Crits-Christoph, P., Connolly Gibbons, M.B., & Mukherjee, D. (2013). Psychotherapy process-outcome research. In M.E. Lambert (Ed.), Bergin and Garfield’s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, 6th Edition (pp. 298-340). New York: Wiley.
In their chapter in the Handbook, Crits-Christoph and colleagues (2013) review research in which psychotherapy processes are related to patient outcomes. I reported in the July 2013 PPRNet Blog that therapeutic alliance is reliably correlated with treatment outcomes in a variety of disorders and treatment types. Alliance refers to an agreement on tasks and goals of therapy, and the bond between therapist and client. The common assumption is that alliance is a necessary condition that in part causes change in client symptoms. However therapeutic alliance studies tend to be correlational, that is, the studies show a relationship but the study designs do not allow one to say that alliance causes good outcomes. What if the opposite were true; what if early experiences of symptom reduction caused the therapeutic alliance to improve? If that were the case, then alliance would be an artificial and not particularly important aspect of psychotherapy. Crits-Christoph and colleagues (2013) review the literature on this topic. Some studies of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), for example, found that prior change in symptoms predicted later therapeutic alliance, but prior alliance did not predict later symptom change. In a more sophisticated study, Crits-Christoph and colleagues (2011) found that previous change in the alliance was related to later change in outcomes, but not vice versa. In the same study, the authors noted that measuring patient alliance at a single early session accounted for only 4.7% of the outcome variance at post treatment, whereas averaging assessments of alliance across 6 early sessions accounted for almost 15% of the outcome variance. In other words, averaging assessments across many sessions produced a more dependable measurement of alliance. Several studies now report a reciprocal relationship between alliance and outcome, indicating that change in alliance and change in outcomes across therapy sessions progress in a mutually reinforcing spiral. That is, early change in alliance causes subsequent change in outcome, which in turn results in further change in alliance, which precipitates more change in symptoms, etc. The review by Crits-Christoph and colleagues (2013) also noted that the importance of alliance seems to be greater for patients with a disorder like depression, compared to anxiety disorders.
Developing an early alliance with a client is related to treatment outcomes. Measuring alliance repeatedly (not just once) will give the best indicator of the state of the therapeutic relationship. Patients and therapists who have a genuine liking for each other, who agree on how therapy will be conducted and on the goals of therapy will improve the chances that psychotherapy will be successful. Alliance and symptom change may work together throughout therapy so that improvement in one will cause change in the other on an ongoing basis across therapy sessions. Alliance may be particularly important for patients with depressive disorders that are characterized by isolation from others, loneliness, and low self esteem.