Youth working alliance: A core clinical construct in need of empirical maturity

Sanno Elena Zack, Louis Georges Castonguay, James Franklin Boswell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


The therapeutic alliance has long been recognized as an important component of successful psychotherapy for adults; research has established robust links to outcome. Until recently, however, research on the alliance between youth and their therapists has been sparse. The present review synthesizes the existing findings regarding the youth alliance and utilizes the adult alliance literature and the child and adolescent developmental literatures to suggest future avenues of research. Weak alliance was found to predict premature termination, and strong alliance predicted symptom reduction, with some support for differential effects of the youth-therapist and parent-therapist alliances. In addition, the youth alliance is moderated by several patient and therapist characteristics, including the particular problems of patients and the interpersonal skills of therapists. The field has yet to coalesce around a single definition of the youth alliance, however, making it difficult to assess research results. Adult models of the alliance continue to be used heuristically despite some evidence that the alliance operates differently for youth. Tightening the operational definition of the youth alliance and addressing methodological issues will be essential in future efforts to understand how the alliance develops and what role it may play in the treatment process for youth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)278-288
Number of pages11
JournalHarvard Review of Psychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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