Alliance with therapist can mean fewer ‘drinking days’

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A positive, trusting relationship between counselor and patient, known as a “therapeutic alliance,” can be key to successful treatment of alcohol use disorder, a new study finds.

Researchers studied more than five dozen people taking part in a 12-week program of cognitive behavior therapy for alcohol use disorder.

Patients who reported the most positive relationships with their counselors on a session-to-session basis had fewer days of drinking and fewer days of heavy drinking between treatment sessions than patients whose relationship was not as positive.

The results indicate that efforts to ensure a good match between patient and counselor can have considerable benefits to the patient’s recovery. Further research on what factors lead to strong therapeutic alliances in alcohol treatment could be warranted.

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Historically, there has been an expectation that the most effective process to treat alcohol use disorder involved therapists confronting their clients about their behavior. But the current study, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, along with other emerging research, has shown that a more positive relationship between therapist and client yields better results.

“Many recent studies have recognized that a positive therapeutic alliance between a therapist and client is necessary for achieving behavior change, but much less has been known about how alliances operate across a full course of treatment,” says Gerard Connors, senior research scientist at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions.

“By studying the alliance on a session-to-session basis, we could see how a fractured alliance at a given point in time interferes with the pursuit of treatment goals by running the risk of a client dropping out of treatment. Therefore, it’s important for the therapist to continue assessing the alliance throughout the entire course of treatment.”

The study also shows a positive alliance was even more critical for patients who had not made changes in their drinking prior to starting treatment.

“In contrast, patients who had already reduced their drinking prior to entering treatment were not as dependent on the therapeutic alliance to continue the process of behavior change,” Connors says.

Researchers from Syracuse University, the University of South Florida, the University of Houston, and Colorado State University are coauthors of the study.

Source: University at Buffalo