Towards a conceptual framework of the working alliance in a blended low-intensity cognitive behavioural therapy intervention for depression in primary mental health care: a qualitative study

BMJ Open. 2020 Sep 23;10(9):e036299. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-036299.


OBJECTIVES: To examine and adapt a conceptual framework of the working alliance (WA) in the context of a low-intensity blended (psychological well-being practitioner (PWP) plus computerised program) cognitive behavioural therapy intervention (b-CBT) for depression.

DESIGN: Patient involvement was enlisted to collaboratively shape the design of the project from the onset, before data collection. In-depth semi-structured interviews were carried out with participants who experienced b-CBT as part of the E-compared trial. A thematic analysis was conducted using a constant comparative method informed by grounded theory.

SETTING: Recruitment was carried out in four psychological primary care services across the UK.

PARTICIPANTS: Nineteen trial participants with major depressive disorder who completed at least one computerised program and face-to-face session with a PWP in the b-CBT arm were recruited to the study.

RESULTS: Qualitative interviews that were guided by WA theory and patient involvement, revealed four themes: (1) a healthcare provider (PWP and computerised program) with good interpersonal competencies for building a working relationship with the client (‘bond’); (2) collaborative efforts between the client and the provider to appropriately identify what the client hopes to achieve through therapy (‘goals’); (3) the selection of acceptable therapeutic activities that address client goals and the availability of responsive support (‘task’) and (4) the promotion of active engagement and autonomous problem solving (‘usability heuristics’). Participants described how the PWP and computerised program uniquely and collectively contributed to different WA needs.

CONCLUSIONS: This study is the first to offer a preliminary conceptual framework of WA in b-CBT for depression, and how such demands can be addressed through blended PWP-computerised program delivery. These findings can be used to promote WA in technological design and clinical practice, thereby promoting engagement to b-CBT interventions and effective deployment of practitioner and program resources.


PMID:32967872 | DOI:10.1136/bmjopen-2019-036299