A review and critical appraisal of measures of therapist-patient interactions in mental health settings

J. Cahill, M. Barkham, G. Hardy, S. Gilbody, D. Richards, P. Bower, K. Audin, J. Connell

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review


Objectives: To assemble and to appraise critically the current literature on tests and measures of therapist-patient interactions in order to make recommendations for practice, training and research, and to establish benchmarks for standardisation, acceptability and routine use of such measures.

Data sources: Major electronic databases (including PsycINFO) were searched from inception to 2002.

Review methods: A comprehensive conceptual map of the subject area of therapist-patient interactions was developed through data extraction from, and analysis of, studies selected from the literature searches. The results of these searches were assessed and appraised to produce a set of possible therapist-patient measures. These measures were then evaluated.

Results: The contextual map included the various concepts and domains that had been used in the context of the literature on therapist-patient interactions, and was used to guide the successive stages of the review. Three developmental processes were identified as necessary for the provision of an effective therapeutic relationship: 'establishing a relationship', 'developing a relationship' and 'maintaining a relationship'. Eighty-three therapist-patient measures having basic information on reliability and validity were identified for critical appraisal. The areas of the conceptual map that received most coverage (i. e. over 50% measures associated with them) were framework, therapist and patient engagement, roles, therapeutic techniques and threats to the relationship. These areas relate to the three key developmental processes outlined above. Of the 83 measures matching the content domain, 43 met the minimum standard. A total of 30 measures displayed adequate responsiveness or precision. None of the 43 measures that met the minimum standard was fully addressed in terms of acceptability and feasibility evidence. The majority of these measures had three or fewer components described. Therefore, out of a total of 83 measures matching the content domain, no measure could be said to have met an industry standard.

Conclusions: The findings indicate that the therapist-patient interaction can be measured using a wide range of instruments of varying value. However, due care should be taken in ensuring that the measure is suitable for the context in which it is to be used. Following on from this work, it is suggested that specific research networks for the development of therapist-patient measures should be established, that research activity should prioritise investment in increasing the evidence base of existing measures rather than attempting to develop new ones, and that research activity should focus on improving these existing measures in terms of acceptability and feasibility issues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)III-+
Number of pages46
JournalHealth technology assessment
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008



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