Therapists' first impression of treatment motivation moderates the relationship between the client-rated therapeutic alliance and drinking outcomes during treatment

Alexander P. Rivera, Stephen A. Maisto, Gerard J. Connors, Robert C. Schlauch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: First impressions can influence interpersonal relationships for extended periods, with negative first impressions leading to more negative judgments and behaviors between individuals months after their initial meeting. Although common factors such as therapeutic alliance (TA) are well studied, less is known of the potential influence of a therapist's first impression of their client's motivation on TA and drinking outcomes. Based on data from a prospective study of the perceptions of the TA among clients receiving cognitive-behavioral treatment (CBT), this study examined how therapists' first impressions may moderate the relationship between client-rated TA and drinking outcomes during treatment. Methods: One hundred fifty-four adults participated in a 12-week course of CBT and completed measures of TA and drinking behaviors following each treatment session. Additionally, therapists completed a measure of their first impression of their client's motivation for treatment following the first session. Results: Time-lagged multilevel modeling revealed a significant within-person TA by therapists' first impression interaction that predicted percent days abstinent (PDA). Specifically, among participants rated as lower on first impressions of treatment motivation, higher within-person TA predicted greater PDA in the interval prior to the next treatment session. Within-person working alliance was not associated with PDA among individuals rated higher on first impressions of treatment motivation who demonstrated higher PDA throughout treatment. Furthermore, significant between-person TA by first impressions interactions were found for both PDA and drinks per drinking day (DDD), such that among individuals with lower treatment motivation, TA positively predicted PDA and negatively predicted DDD. Conclusion: Although therapists' first impressions of a client's treatment motivation are positively associated with treatment outcomes, clients' perception of the TA may mitigate the impact of poor first impressions. These findings highlight the need for additional nuanced examinations of the relationship between TA and treatment outcomes, emphasizing the contextual factors that influence this relationship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)806-821
Number of pages16
JournalAlcohol: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • alcohol use disorder
  • first impressions
  • therapeutic alliance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • General Medicine


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