Therapist Differentiation and Couple Clients' Perceptions of Therapeutic Alliance

Research paper by Suzanne Bartle‐Haring, Samuel Shannon, David Bowers, Eugene Holowacz

Indexed on: 09 Mar '16Published on: 29 Feb '16Published in: Journal of Marital and Family Therapy


Therapeutic alliance has been acknowledged as one of the catalysts for change within a therapeutic relationship. The contributions of therapists' characteristics to alliance are not often studied. From a Bowen System's Theory perspective, the therapist's level of differentiation would be highly relevant to the development of a therapeutic alliance. The hypothesis for this study was that therapists who are able to take a more differentiated stance in therapy will build a stronger therapeutic alliance. To test this hypothesis, multilevel modeling procedures were performed, using data from nine therapists and 93 couple cases collected at a large, Midwestern university. Therapist differentiation of self was found to be weakly associated with the clients' perception of therapeutic alliance across the early sessions of therapy, but not in the expected direction. Although the results were unexpected, this study provides an example of the potential of examining therapist characteristics from within one model of therapy, that can be applied across various clients and various models of therapy.