Background: Although numerous efficacy studies in recent years have found internet-based interventions for depression to be effective, there has been scant consideration of therapeutic process factors in the online setting. In face-to face therapy, the quality of the working alliance explains variance in treatment outcome. However, little is yet known about the impact of the working alliance in internet-based interventions, particularly as compared with face-to-face therapy.
Methods: This study explored the working alliance between client and therapist in the middle and at the end of a cognitive-behavioral intervention for depression. The participants were randomized to an internet-based treatment group (n = 25) or face-to-face group (n = 28). Both groups received the same cognitive behavioral therapy over an 8-week timeframe. Participants completed the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) post-treatment and the Working Alliance Inventory at mid- and post- treatment. Therapists completed the therapist version of the Working Alliance Inventory at post-treatment.
Results: With the exception of therapists' ratings of the tasks subscale, which were significantly higher in the online group, the two groups' ratings of the working alliance did not differ significantly. Further, significant correlations were found between clients' ratings of the working alliance and therapy outcome at post-treatment in the online group and at both mid- and post-treatment in the face-to-face group. Correlation analysis revealed that the working alliance ratings did not significantly predict the BDI residual gain score in either group.
Conclusions: Contrary to what might have been expected, the working alliance in the online group was comparable to that in the face-to-face group. However, the results showed no significant relations between the BDI residual gain score and the working alliance ratings in either group.