Therapeutic alliance in pediatric primary care: preliminary evidence for a relationship with physician communication style and mothers' satisfaction

J Dev Behav Pediatr. Feb-Mar 2010;31(2):83-91. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e3181cda770.


Objectives: Studies in pediatric primary care suggest that interactions between parents and providers may have therapeutic impact on children's mental health problems. Methods to measure interactions specific to mental health outcomes have been developed in psychotherapy but are only beginning to be applied in primary care. We tested an adaptation of the Vanderbilt Therapeutic Alliance Scale (VTAS) for rating parent-provider interactions in pediatric primary care.

Methods: Recoding, using the VTAS, of 50 previously collected audiotapes of visits to a pediatric residents' continuity clinic. Concurrent validity of VTAS coding was measured by comparing it to independent coding using the Roter Interaction Analysis System. Predictive validity was tested by comparing VTAS scores to parent ratings of the residents' behavior in the domains of interpersonal sensitivity, partnership, and informativeness.

Results: The VTAS demonstrated a factor structure very similar to the structure observed when it has been used to rate mental health visits. VTAS patient and provider subscale scores correlated with corresponding Roter Interaction Analysis System measures of parent and resident participation. Total VTAS scores correlated most strongly with Roter Interaction Analysis System scores indicating emotion and rapport-building statements from the resident. Total VTAS scores predicted parents' ratings of residents' interpersonal sensitivity but not ratings of partnership or informativeness.

Conclusion: It appears possible to use therapeutic alliance to rate interactions in primary care. Measuring alliance may bring greater efficiency to primary care mental health studies because of its potential specificity as a marker of mental health-related outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Mental Health
  • Mothers*
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Pediatrics / methods*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians, Family
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult