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Psychotherapy (Chic). 2016 Mar;53(1):117-23. doi: 10.1037/pst0000022. Epub 2015 Jul 27.

The impact of computer use on therapeutic alliance and continuance in care during the mental health intake.

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Counseling and Health Psychology, Bastyr University.
School of Psychology, Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya.
Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School.


Advances in information technology within clinical practice have rapidly expanded over recent years. Despite the documented benefits of using electronic health records, which often necessitate computer use during the clinical encounter, little is known about the impact of computer use during the mental health visit and its effect on the quality of the therapeutic alliance. We investigated the association between computer use and quality of the working alliance and continuance in care in 104 naturalistic mental health intake sessions. Data were collected from 8 safety-net outpatient clinics in the Northeast offering mental health services to a diverse client population. All intakes were video recorded. Use of computer during the intake session was ascertained directly from the recording of the session (n = 22; 22.15% of intakes). Working alliance was assessed from the session videotapes by independent reliable coders, using the Working Alliance Inventory, Observer Form-bond scale. Therapist computer use was significantly associated with the quality of the observer-rated therapeutic alliance (Coefficient = -6.29, SE = 2.2, p < .01; Cohen's effect size of d = -0.76), and client's continuance in care (Odds ratio = .11, CI = 0.03-0.38; p < .001). The quality of the observer-rated working alliance and client's continuance in care were significantly lower in intakes in which the therapist used a computer during the session. Findings indicate a cautionary call in advancing computer use within the mental health intake, and demonstrate the need for future research to identify the specific behaviors that promote or hinder a strong working alliance within the context of psychotherapy in the technological era.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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