What process research tells us about brief intervention efficacy


  • Submitted as a ‘Proceeding of Conferences’ (INEBRIA Conference, Newcastle/Gateshead, UK, October 8–9, 2009) to the Drug and Alcohol Review, First revision, July 2010.

Jean-Bernard Daeppen MD, Director, Associate Professor, Nicolas Bertholet MD, MSc, Chief Resident, Jacques Gaume MA, Research Fellow. Correspondence to Professor Jean-Bernard Daeppen, Alcohol Treatment Centre, Lausanne University Hospital, Mont-Paisible 16, 1011 Lausanne, Switzerland. Tel: +41 21 314 73 51; Fax: +41 21 314 05 62; E-mail: jean-bernard.daeppen@chuv.ch


Issue.This article explores mechanisms of the efficacy of brief intervention (BI).

Approach.We conducted a BI trial at the emergency department of the Lausanne University Hospital, of whom 987 at-risk drinkers were randomised into BI and control groups. The overall results demonstrated a general decrease in alcohol use with no differences across groups. The intention to change was explored among 367 patients who completed BI. Analyses of 97 consecutive tape-recorded sessions explored patient and counsellor talks during BI, and their relationship to alcohol use outcome.

Key Findings.Evaluation of the articulation between counsellor behaviours and patient language revealed a robust relationship between counsellor motivational interviewing (MI) skills and patient change talk during the intervention. Further exploration suggested that communication characteristics of patients during BI predicted changes in alcohol consumption 12 months later. Moreover, despite systematic training, important differences in counsellor performance were highlighted. Counsellors who had superior MI skills achieved better outcomes overall, and maintained efficacy across all levels of patient ability to change, whereas counsellors with inferior MI skills were effective mostly with patients who had higher levels of ability to change. Finally, the descriptions of change talk trajectories within BI and their association with drinking 12 months later showed that final states differed from initial states, suggesting an impact resulting from the progression of change talk during the course of the intervention.

Implication.These findings suggest that BI should focus on the general MI attitude of counsellors who are capable of eliciting beneficial change talk from patients. [Daeppen J-B, Bertholet N, Gaume J. What process research tells us about brief intervention efficacy. Drug Alcohol Rev 2010;29;612–616]