Objectives: The treatment alliance is the arena in which psychopharmacological and other therapeutic interventions occur. The nature and quality of the treatment alliance may affect adherence to treatment and the realization of the benefits of effective pharmacological treatment in clinical practice. It is an area that has attracted little systematic study, despite the available evidence suggesting that it plays a measurable role in clinical outcomes.
Methods: A literature search was undertaken using Medline, Ovid, Psychinfo and Science Direct from 1975 to 2004. The following key words were used: bipolar disorder, patient adherence, non-adherence to medication, compliance, doctor–patient relationship, doctor–patient communication, treatment alliance, therapeutic alliance, chronic illness management, collaborative care, self-management, health beliefs, self-efficacy, self-determination, autonomy support, motivational interviewing.
Results: Psychosocial interventions have demonstrated positive effects on adherence problems. Studies of the impact of the treatment alliance on outcomes in mental illness highlight the possibilities of fruitful research in this area in bipolar disorder. Different theoretical models of changing health related behaviour may inform approaches to the treatment alliance.
Conclusions: Results suggest the usefulness of a collaborative approach to the treatment alliance. Attention needs to be given to developing intervention models that target modifiable risk factors for non-adherence and address patient, clinician and illness related variables to enhance medication adherence in the treatment alliance. Refinement of these models through controlled evaluation in real world settings may lead to integration in health care delivery systems.