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Speech and language therapists’ perspectives of therapeutic alliance construction and maintenance in aphasia rehabilitation post-stroke

Lawton, M and Sage, K and Haddock, G and Conroy, P and Serrant, L (2018) Speech and language therapists’ perspectives of therapeutic alliance construction and maintenance in aphasia rehabilitation post-stroke. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 53 (3). pp. 550-563. ISSN 1368-2822

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Abstract

© 2018 The Authors International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists Background: Therapeutic alliance refers to the interactional and relational processes operating during therapeutic interventions. It has been shown to be a strong determinant of treatment efficacy in psychotherapy, and evidence is emerging from a range of healthcare and medical disciplines to suggest that the construct of therapeutic alliance may in fact be a variable component of treatment outcome, engagement and satisfaction. Although this construct appears to be highly relevant to aphasia rehabilitation, no research to date has attempted to explore this phenomenon and thus consider its potential utility as a mechanism for change. Aims: To explore speech and language therapists’ perceptions and experiences of developing and maintaining therapeutic alliances in aphasia rehabilitation post-stroke. Methods & Procedures: Twenty-two, in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with speech and language therapists working with people with aphasia post-stroke. Qualitative data were analysed using inductive thematic analysis. Outcomes & Results: Analysis resulted in the emergence of three overarching themes: laying the groundwork; augmenting cohesion; and contextual shapers. Recognizing personhood, developing shared expectations of therapy and establishing therapeutic ownership were central to laying the groundwork for therapeutic delivery. Augmenting cohesion was perceived to be dependent on the therapists’ responsiveness and ability to resolve both conflict and resistance, as part of an ongoing active process. These processes were further moulded by contextual shapers such as the patient's family, relational continuity and organizational drivers. Conclusions & Implications: The findings suggest that therapists used multiple, complex, relational strategies to establish and manage alliances with people with aphasia, which were reliant on a fluid interplay of verbal and non-verbal skills. The data highlight the need for further training to support therapists to forge purposive alliances. Training should develop: therapeutic reflexivity; inclusivity in goal setting, relational strategies; and motivational enhancement techniques. The conceptualization of therapeutic alliance, however, is only provisional. Further research is essential to elucidate the experiences and perceptions of alliance development for people with aphasia undergoing rehabilitation.

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