Perfectionism and therapeutic alliance: a review of the clinical research

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Racheli Miller *
Mark J. Hilsenroth
Paul L. Hewitt
(*) Corresponding Author:
Racheli Miller | renarachelimiller@gmail.com

Abstract

In this review, we synthesize findings regarding the relationship between perfectionism and therapeutic alliance, most of which come from analyses by Blatt and colleagues. Results suggest what follows. First, patients’ initial level of perfectionism negatively affects patients’ bond with therapists and perception of therapists’ Rogerian attributes (empathy, congruence, and regard) early in treatment and engagement in therapy later in treatment. Second, therapists’ contribution to alliance is not seemingly affected by patients’ initial perfectionism level. Third, individual patients of therapists who are perceived on average by their patients to be higher on Rogerian attributes experience greater decreases in perfectionism and symptoms. Fourth, more positive perceptions of therapists’ Rogerian attributes early in treatment lead to greater symptom decrease for patients with moderate perfectionism. Fifth, greater early patient engagement in therapy is related to greater decrease in perfectionism, but a strong relationship with the therapist may be necessary for an accompanied greater decrease in symptoms. The relationship between pre-treatment perfectionism and alliance is partially explained by higher levels of hostility and lower levels of positive affect. Sixth, the relationship between pre-treatment perfectionism and outcome is almost entirely explained by level of patient contribution to alliance and satisfaction with social network, highlighting the importance of focusing on social functioning for patients with high perfectionism (both in and outside of the session). Limitations include that most of the findings are from analyses of one large data set and a range of measurement issues. Future research should utilize different measures, perspectives, and populations and examine specific session process.

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