According to a new study, conducted by Giorgio A. Tasca of the Department of Psychology at the University of Ottawa, individuals who feel more connected to other members of their treatment group have fewer eating issues than those who feel less aligned. “Therapeutic alliance” is a term used to describe the bond between a client and his or her therapist. Alliance has been shown to be a core element in predicting treatment outcomes for a variety of psychological issues. In group therapy settings, clients develop a therapeutic bond with their therapists, but also forge alliances with the other members of the group. This group alliance also is a crucial part of the overall therapeutic process. Tasca chose to study the dynamic of group alliance and how it affected treatment gains in a sample of 238 individuals who had received mixed diagnoses for eating and food problems. The participants recorded their level of alliance each week for nine weeks. They also kept track of their desire to restrict food after every meal.
Tasca found that there was a strong association between group alliance and food restriction. The participants who had the highest levels of alliance had the lowest restriction urges. Additionally, the level of intensity to restrict was predictive of group alliance ratings. However, the findings must be considered in light of some limitations. First, all of the participants had mixed diagnoses. This means that the alliance-outcome findings could be different for each individual eating problem. Also, the alliance levels were gauged using self-reports. Future research might utilize more subjective measures to assess alliance for group members. Regardless of these factors, the results underscore the importance of alliance for every individual in the group—not just to the therapists, but to other members of the group as well. “Clinicians may improve group treatment by assessing alliance to the group and outcomes repeatedly, being aware of their interplay, and structuring interventions based on the mutual causal effects of change in each,” Tasca said.
Tasca, G. A., Lampard, A. M. (2012). Reciprocal influence of alliance to the group and outcome in day treatment for eating disorders. Journal of Counseling Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029947
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