Therapeutic alliance and clinical outcomes in teletherapy and in-person psychotherapy: A noninferiority study during the COVID-19 pandemic

Katherine A. Davis, Fanghui Zhao, Rebecca A. Janis, Louis G. Castonguay, Jeffrey A. Hayes, Brett E. Scofield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Objective The current study aimed to inform the varied and limited research on clinical variables in the context of teletherapy. Questions remain about the comparative quality of therapeutic alliance and clinical outcome in the context of teletherapy compared to in-person treatment. Methods We utilized a cohort design and a noninferiority statistical approach to study a large, matched sample of clients who reported therapeutic alliance as well as psychological distress before every session as part of routine clinical practice at a university counseling center. A cohort of 479 clients undergoing teletherapy after the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic was compared to a cohort of 479 clients receiving in-person treatment before the onset of the pandemic. Tests of noninferiority were conducted to investigate the absence of meaningful differences between the two modalities of service delivery. Client characteristics were also examined as moderators of the association between modality and alliance or outcome. Results Clients receiving teletherapy showed noninferior alliance and clinical outcome when compared to clients receiving in-person psychotherapy. A significant main effect on alliance was found with regard to race and ethnicity. A significant main effect on outcome was found with regard to international student status. Significant interactions on alliance were found between cohort and current financial stress. Conclusions Study findings support the continued use of teletherapy by demonstrating commensurate clinical process and outcome. Yet, it will be important for providers to be aware of existing mental health disparities that continue to accompany psychotherapy–in person and via teletherapy. Results and findings are discussed in terms of research and clinical implications. Future directions for researching teletherapy as a viable treatment delivery method are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)589-600
Number of pages12
JournalPsychotherapy Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology

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