The working alliance in treatment of military adolescents

J Consult Clin Psychol. 2016 Mar;84(3):200-10. doi: 10.1037/ccp0000035. Epub 2016 Jan 4.


Objective: Although the working alliance-outcome association is well-established for adults, the working alliance has accounted for 1% of the variance in adolescent therapy outcomes. How the working alliance unfolds in therapy and is modeled in therapy studies may substantially affect how much variance is attributed to the working alliance.

Method: The sample included 2,990 military youth who were treated by 98 therapists and attended at least 8 therapy sessions. The average age was 14.91 years (SD = 1.79). Each session, clients completed the Outcome Rating Scale as a measure of psychological well-being/distress and the Session Rating Scale as a measure of working alliance. We utilized 3 models to examine the working alliance-outcome association in therapy: (a) mono-method model (i.e., 1 rating of working alliance correlated with outcomes), (b) aggregate-assessment model (i.e., multiple sessions aggregated and correlated with outcomes), and (c) change-based model (i.e., changes in working alliance scores correlated with outcomes).

Results: Findings supported the change-based model. The amount of variance explained in youth outcomes via growth in working alliance scores in the change-based model was approximately 9.8%, which suggests that a key mechanism of client-perceived change for adolescents in therapy may be the continual development of the working alliance over the course of treatment.

Conclusions: The monitoring of and continual promotion of the working alliance among military youth in the early phases of therapy may help therapists improve treatment outcomes.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Military Personnel
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult