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Research on the alliance is reviewed in a historic context. Different conceptualizations of the nature and role of the alliance are examined within the framework of theories about the role and function of the relationship in treatment. The evolution of these concepts is cast in the broader context of the current debate concerning an appropriate conceptual framework for empirically supported therapy. Using these perspectives, several persistent challenges are highlighted: the need to develop a clearer definition of the alliance; the challenge of reaching a broad consensus about the alliance's relation to other elements in the therapeutic relationship; and the task of more clearly specifying the role and function of the alliance in different phases of treatment. The paper concludes with an examination of how such a historically informed perspective might offer useful indicators for future research.