Recovery Management extends therapeutic reach

Lambert's PieYesterday’s post on addiction counseling as community organization got me thinking about something I’d heard from a Scott Miller presentation.

Miller argued that treatment outcomes are due to the following factors in the following proportions:

  • 40%: client and extratherapeutic factors (such as ego strength, social support, etc.)
  • 30%: therapeutic relationship (such as empathy, warmth, and encouragement of risk-taking)
  • 15%: expectancy and placebo effects
  • 15%: techniques unique to specific therapies

Part of his argument was that we can’t control that 40% related to client and external factors, and we spend tons of time and capital arguing about the 15% related to specific therapies. He argues that we should spend much more time on the 45% we have more control over, hope and the alliance.

Here’s what I was thinking—that recovery management attends to that 45% plus the 40% Miller says is out of our hands. Bill White calls on us to shape those external factors. The attention to family, community, social, vocational, educational and other factors extends our reach.

Its worth noting that Physician Health Programs do this too, by creating social peer support (caduceus groups) and support within the workplace.

Is low therapist empathy toxic?

Starting in the 1950s Carl Rogers brought Pers...
Starting in the 1950s Carl Rogers brought Person-centered psychotherapy into mainstream focus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Miller and Moyers make the case that low therapist empathy is toxic with a review of some research on the topic.


In one study, a single in-session therapist behavior predicted 42% of the variance in clients’ 12-month drinking outcomes: the more the therapist confronted, the more the client drank (Miller, Benefield, & Tonigan, 1993).

Client resistance increased and decreased as a step function in response to counseling style. Teach/Direct (Information/Advice) increased client resistance by 70% in contrast to empathic listening. Resistance dropped back down with resumed listening and jumped backup with a return to Teach/Direct.

In a randomized trial comparing therapist styles with problem drinkers receiving feedback regarding the severity of alcohol-related assessment results, client resistance responses were 70% higher with directive as compared to client-centered counseling (Miller et al., 1993).


And, that high therapist empathy should be treated as an evidence-based practice:


It appears that therapist empathy can predict meaningful proportions of variance in addiction treatment outcome (e.g., Miller et al., 1993Valle, 1981) that are an order of magnitude larger than the between-treatment differences typically observed in clinical trials (Imel et al., 2008) and typically fall within the range of what addiction treatment providers regard to be a clinically meaningful effect (Miller & Manuel, 2008). In psychotherapy research more generally, therapist empathy may account for as much or more outcome variance than therapeutic alliance or specific intervention (Bohart, Elliot, Greenberg, & Watson, 2002Imel, Wampold, & Miller, 2008). It could be argued that providing accurate empathy in addiction treatment is an evidence-based practice regardless of theoretical orientation and that its absence will reduce the likelihood that clients will change their substance use.