Aims To predict the early therapeutic alliance from a range of potentially relevant factors, including clients’ social relationships, motivation and psychological resources, and counsellors’ professional experience and ex-user status.
Design The study recruited 187 clients starting residential rehabilitation treatment for drug misuse in three UK services. Counsellor and client information was assessed at intake, and client and counsellor ratings of the alliance were obtained during weeks 1, 2 and 3.
Measurements The intake assessment battery included scales on psychological wellbeing, treatment motivation, coping strategies and attachment style. Client and counsellor versions of the Working Alliance Inventory (WAI-S) were used for weekly alliance measurement. Hierarchical linear models were used to examine the relationship between alliance and predictor variables.
Findings Clients who had better motivation, coping strategies, social support and a secure attachment style were more likely to develop good alliances. Findings with regard to counsellor characteristics were not clear cut: clients rated their relationships with ex-user counsellors, experienced counsellors and male counsellors as better, but more experienced counsellors rated their alliances as worse.
Conclusions The findings offer important leads as to what interventions might improve the therapeutic alliance. Further work will need to establish whether the therapeutic alliance and ultimately treatment outcomes can be enhanced by working on improving clients’ motivation and psychosocial resources.