The alliance in couple therapy: Partner influence, early change, and alliance patterns in a naturalistic sample

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Objective: The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between the alliance and outcome in couple therapy and examine whether the alliance predicted outcomes over and above early change. The authors also investigated partner influence and gender and sought to identify couple alliance patterns that predicted couple outcomes. Method: The authors examined the alliances and outcomes at posttreatment and follow-up of 250 couples seeking treatment for marital distress in a naturalistic setting. The Session Rating Scale was used to measure the alliance; the Outcome Rating Scale and Locke Wallace Marital Adjustment Scale were used to measure outcomes. Couples were White, Euro-Scandinavian, and heterosexual, with a mean age of 38.5 years and average number of years together of 11.8. On a subsample (n = 118) that included couples with 4 or more sessions, the authors investigated the relationship between the alliance and outcome controlling for early change, and patterns of alliance development were delineated. Results: In the full sample, first-session alliances were not predictive of outcomes, but last-session alliances were predictive for both individuals and their partners. In the subsample, third-session alliances predicted outcome significantly above early change (d = 0.25) that exceeded the reliable change index. Couple alliances that started over the mean and increased were associated with significantly more couples achieving reliable or clinically significant change. Gender influences were mixed. Conclusions: Given the current findings suggesting a potential alliance impact over and above symptom relief as well as the importance of ascending alliance scores, continuous assessment of the alliance appears warranted. © 2010 American Psychological Association.

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Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology