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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Contribution of the Quality of Therapists' Personal Lives to the Development of the Working Alliance

By Helene A. Nissen-Lie, Odd E. Havik, Per A. Hoglend, Jon T. Monsen, and Michael Helge Ronnestad
Journal of Counseling Psychology. 2013 Aug 19


Research suggests that the person of the psychotherapist is important for the process and outcome of psychotherapy, but little is known about the relationship between therapists' personal experiences and the quality of their therapeutic work. This study investigates 2 factors (Personal Satisfactions and Personal Burdens) reflecting therapists' quality of life that emerged from the self-reports of a large international sample of psychotherapists (N = 4,828) (Orlinsky & Rønnestad, 2004, 2005) using the Quality of Personal Life scales of the Development of Psychotherapists Common Core Questionnaire (Orlinsky et al., 1999). These factors were investigated as predictors of alliance levels and growth (using the Working Alliance Inventory) rated by both patients and therapists in a large (227 patients and 70 therapists) naturalistic outpatient psychotherapy study (Havik et al., 1995). The Personal Burdens scale was strongly and inversely related to the growth of the alliance as rated by the patients, but was unrelated to therapist-rated alliance. Conversely, the factor scale of therapists' Personal Satisfactions was clearly and positively associated with therapist-rated alliance growth, but was unrelated to the patients' ratings of the alliance. The findings suggest that the working alliance is influenced by therapists' quality of life, but in divergent ways when rated by patients or by therapists. It seems that patients are particularly sensitive to their therapists' private life experience of distress, which presumably is communicated through the therapists' in-session behaviors, whereas the therapists' judgments of alliance quality were positively biased by their own sense of personal well-being.


The notion that the psychotherapist as an individual is important for psychotherapeutic outcomes stems in part from the well-known and frequently cited finding of meta-analyses that therapy outcome appears to be less related to the use of different therapy methods associated with established schools of therapy, and significantly related to differences between the individual psychotherapists providing the therapy (Benish, Imel, & Wampold, 2008; Blatt, Zuroff, Quinlan, & Pilkonis, 1996; Huppert et al., 2001; Kim, Wampold, & Bolt, 2006). Moreover, in efforts to identify the characteristics in therapists that promote treatment success or failure, the studies to date suggest that experience level, type of training, theoretical orientation, and so forth have limited value in distinguishing between more or less successful therapists (Beutler et al., 2004; Dunkle & Friedlander, 1996; Sandell et al., 2007; Skovholt & Jennings, 2004; Strupp & Hadley, 1977). Instead, therapists' interpersonal qualities appear to be more relevant, such as their facilitative interpersonal skills (Anderson, Ogles, Pattersen, Lambert, & Vermeersch, 2009); their ability to be affirmative, responsive, and empathic (Bohart, Elliott, Greenberg, & Watson, 2002; Najavits & Strupp, 1994); their ability to resist counteraggression when confronted with devaluation and rejections by patients (von der Lippe, Monsen, Ronnestad, & Eilertsen, 2008); and their interpersonal functioning in their personal lives (Dunkle & Friedlander, 1996; Hersoug, Hoglend, Havik, von der Lippe, & Monsen, 2009b). Hence, although therapists are professional helpers, it may be that their personal characteristics are more important than their professional qualifications in determining their therapeutic capabilities. This suggestion echoes the statements of Rosenzweig (1936), Strupp (1958), and Rogers (1957, 1961), who emphasized that studying the personal characteristics of psychotherapists is necessary in order to understand patient development in psychotherapy.

Thanks to Ken Pope for this information.
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