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(MRC DTP) Exploring therapeutic alliance for digital mental health

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, November 15, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

It is well established that successful psychological therapies require the development of a therapeutic alliance (TA) between therapist and client based on the negotiation of shared treatment goals. The world-wide expansion of digital therapies for mental health problems have led researchers to consider the of concept of TA in relation to digital mental health technology. Understanding digital TA is key to designing effective digital mental health systems. The supervisors and their collaborators (Dr Lederman and Dr D’Alfonso) based at the School of Computing and Information Systems, University of Melbourne are leaders in this field of digital TA. The supervisors (Professors Berry and Bucci) have developed the first tool to measure digital therapeutic alliance (Mobile Agnew therapeutic Relationship Measure; MARM) and the measure has been subject to a preliminary validation (Berry et al., 2018). This measure is an important development as it allows us to both determine the strength of association between alliance and outcome in the context of digital technologies and to develop digital mental health platforms so that they more closely mirror key components of alliance in face-to-face therapy. Our previous work has found that although users of digital interventions do identify relationship concepts, current apps were not capable of portraying uniquely human-like qualities such as friendliness, collaboration, and agreement essential for TA, meaning that they might be less effective than face-to-face interventions. This PhD has two principle aims: 1) fully validate and if necessary further fine the MARM measure of digital TA; 2) explore how we can maximise current software capabilities to more closely emulate characteristics conducive to the development for TA, for example, improved responsiveness and tailored and personalised intervention strategies.
The first element of this PhD will involve undertaking a review and meta-analysis of previous studies investigating the concept of TA in the context of technological-based mental health interventions.
The second element of the PhD project will involve refining and assessing the psychometric properties and predictive validity of the new digital TA measure using data from randomised controlled trials of digital mental health interventions undertaken at the University of Manchester and University of Melbourne. The third element of the project will involve using qualitative methods such as semi-structured interviews or focus groups with mental health service users and healthcare professionals to explore how key components of the digital TA alliance identified in stage one can be mirrored in digital platforms.

Entry Requirements:
Applications are invited from UK/EU nationals only. Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

Funding Notes

This project is to be funded under the MRC Doctoral Training Partnership. If you are interested in this project, please make direct contact with the Principal Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. You MUST also submit an online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the MRC DTP website View Website

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.

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