A recent study shows that a positive, trusting relationship between a client and their counselor can improve alcohol use disorder (AUD) treatment success.  Known as a “therapeutic alliance,” the trust between patient and counselor can positively affect treatment outcomes.

In a study of 63 people who were in a 12-week cognitive behavior therapy program for AUD, those who reported the most positive relationships with their counselors drank less alcohol between counseling sessions than those who perceived their relationships with their counselors in a less positive light.

Study author Gerard Connors, Ph.D., senior research scientist at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions, states that efforts to ensure a good match between patient and counselor can have considerable benefits to the patient’s recovery.

Confronting a client about their alcohol use behavior has been a traditional method of treating AUD.  Connors notes that confrontation can damage the counselor-client relationship, and the chances of a patient staying in treatment. “By studying the alliance on a session-to-session basis, we could see how a fractured alliance at a given point in time interferes with the pursuit of treatment goals by running the risk of a client dropping out of treatment,” says Connors. “Therefore, it’s important for the therapist to continue assessing the alliance throughout the entire course of treatment.”

Another finding of the study was that a positive relationship was even more important for those who had not changed their drinking patterns before beginning treatment. “In contrast, patients who had already reduced their drinking prior to entering treatment were not as dependent on the therapeutic alliance to continue the process of behavior change,” Connors says.

Future research may help determine which factors help build a strong therapeutic alliance, which could be used as a mechanism of change for treating AUD.