Annotation: The therapeutic alliance – a significant but neglected variable in child mental health treatment studies

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Abstract

Background

There has been relatively little research into therapeutic alliance in child and adolescent mental health and virtually no incorporation of alliance measures as a variable in treatment trials in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Method

A selective literature review on studies in therapeutic alliance in adulthood and childhood along with a theoretical formulation of possible mechanisms of alliance.

Results

Therapeutic alliance is reliably measurable both by observation and questionnaire methods at all points in the treatment cycle. In both adult and child studies it shows a consistent, albeit modest, association with treatment outcome. In specific adult studies it has shown a high predictive validity in relation to outcome compared to other variables. In child studies alliance is particularly salient in externalising disorder and predicts outcome of inpatient treatment. Child alliance and parental alliance are independent factors. Theoretical models of alliance outlined in this paper suggest testable hypotheses regarding predictors for positive and negative alliance.

Conclusions

Therapeutic alliance in CAMHS is measurable and worth measuring. It is likely to be an important variable for treatment outcome studies and should be included in future trial designs.

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