Working Alliance (WA) describes the relationship between a client and therapist and the underlying bond formed during the therapeutic process. The majority of researchers believe that a strong WA is essential to a positive treatment outcome. Ethnic and racial differences between clients and therapists can impair the working alliance and therefore influence the outcome as well. “Members of racial/ethnic minority groups may experience greater challenges in establishing a trusting therapeutic relationship due to perceived or actual cultural differences or cultural biases,” said Sherry Muterspaugh Walling of the Department of Psychology at Fresno Pacific University.
Because half of the therapists in the United States are Caucasian or of European decent, Walling believes this presents an obstacle, especially for men seeking treatment for violent crimes. “White therapists working with clients who are members of racial/ethnic minority groups may symbolize past experiences of mistreatment or discrimination or experiences of racism within the criminal justice system,” said Walling, lead author of a recent study that evaluated WA in interracial client-therapist settings. “The current study seeks to address this important research need by examining therapist and client reports of working alliance (WA) by client race/ethnicity across four time points during a 16-week cognitive– behavioral treatment program for male perpetrators of intimate partner violence (IPV).”
The participants included 107 male offenders, half of whom were Caucasian. The other half was Hispanic, American Indian, Asian American or African American. Walling discovered that the Caucasian clients who met with white therapists experienced an increase in WA over the 16 weeks. However, the minority participants did not. “The interaction between client race/ethnicity and WA was also a significant predictor of treatment outcome at 6-month follow-up,” said Walling. “The current findings point to the importance of race/ethnicity in the development of the therapist– client relationship.” She added, “Further exploration into the mechanisms underlying these differences is essential to enhance the effectiveness and quality of treatment programs for partner-violent men.”
Walling, S. M., Suvak, M. K., Howard, J. M., Taft, C. T., & Murphy, C. M. (2011, December 19). Race/Ethnicity as a Predictor of Change in Working Alliance During Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Intimate Partner Violence Perpetrators. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025751
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