The role of the working alliance in treatment for alcohol problems

Sarah Cook, Nick Heather, Jim McCambridge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Little research has been done on the role of the therapeutic working alliance in treatment for alcohol problems. This longitudinal study’s objectives were (a) to identify predictors of working alliance and (b) to investigate whether client and/or therapist reports of the working alliance predicted posttreatment motivation and then later treatment outcome. Client and therapist perceptions of the working alliance were assessed after the first treatment session using a short form of the Working Alliance Inventory (WAI) among 173 clients taking part in the United Kingdom Alcohol Treatment Trial (UKATT) and randomized to motivational enhancement therapy (MET) or social behavior and network therapy (SBNT) with complete data on all measures of interest. Structural equation models were fitted to identify predictors of WAI scores and investigate the relationships between WAI and measures of drinking during treatment, posttreatment motivation, and successful treatment outcome (abstinent or nonproblem drinker), and measures of drinks per drinking day and nondrinking days, assessed 9 months after the conclusion of treatment. Motivation to change drinking when treatment began was a strong predictor of client—adjusted coefficient = 2.21 (95% confidence interval [CI] [0.36, 4.06]—but not therapist WAI. Client WAI predicted successful treatment outcome—adjusted odds ratios (OR) =� 1.09 (95% CI [1.02, 1.17])—and had effects on drinking during treatment, and on posttreatment motivation to change. There was evidence for effect modification by treatment, with strong associations between WAI and posttreatment motivation, and evidence of WAI prediction of treatment outcomes in the MET group, but no evidence of associations for SBNT. Therapist WAI was not strongly associated with treatment outcome (adjusted OR �= 1.05; 95% CI [0.99, 1.10]). The working alliance is important to treatment outcomes for alcohol problems, with client evaluation of the alliance strongly related to motivation to change drinking throughout treatment for MET. It was also much more important than therapist-rated alliance in this study.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-381
JournalPsychology of Addictive Behaviors
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015


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