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Adm Policy Ment Health. 2010 May;37(3):230-44. doi: 10.1007/s10488-009-0251-x.

Child and family therapy process: concordance of therapist and observational perspectives.

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  • 1University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA. mhurlburt@casrc.org


The objective of this study is to examine the characteristics of outpatient mental health services delivered in community-based outpatient clinics, comparing information obtained from two different sources, therapists serving children and families, and observational coders viewing tapes of the same treatment sessions. Videotaped therapy sessions were rated by therapists and independent coders regarding goals and strategies pursued during each session. Sixty-three sessions were taped of outpatient care provided to 18 children and their caregivers by 11 therapists. Children were 4-13 years old and families were receiving services at least in part due to reported child behavior problems, confirmed by ratings from the Child Behavior Checklist and Conners Parent Rating Scale-Revised. Analyses assessed the frequency, type, and intensity of goals and strategies pursued in therapy sessions from both therapist and observational coders' perspectives. Reliability of observer ratings and correspondence between therapist and observer reports were also examined. The reliability of observational coding of goals and strategies was moderate to good, with 76% of 39 codes having ICCs of .5 or greater. Therapists reported pursuing 2.5 times more goals and strategies per session, on average, than identified by observational coders. Correspondence between therapists and coders about the occurrence of specific goals and strategies in treatment sessions was low, with 20.5% of codes having a Kappa of .4 or higher. Substantial differences exist in what therapists and independent coders report as occurring in outpatient treatment sessions. Both perspectives suggest major differences between the content of services provided in community-based outpatient clinics and the structure of evidence-based programs, which emphasize intense pursuit of a small number of goals and strategies in each treatment session. Implications of the findings for quality improvement efforts in community-based mental health care settings are discussed.

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