Despite widespread recognition of the problem of adolescent alcohol and other drug (AOD) abuse, research on its most common treatment modality, group work, is lacking. This research gap is alarming given that outcomes range from positive to potentially iatrogenic. This study sought to identify change mechanisms and/or treatment factors that are observable within group treatment sessions and that may predict AOD use outcomes.
This NIH (F31 DA 020233-01A1) study evaluated 108, 10-19 year olds and the 19 school-based treatment groups to which they were previously assigned (R01 AA10246; PI: Wagner). Associations between motivational interviewing (MI) based change talk variables, group leader MI skills, and alcohol and marijuana use outcomes up to 12-months following treatment were evaluated.
Treatment session audio recordings and transcripts (1R21AA015679-01; PI: Macgowan) were coded using a new discourse analysis coding scheme for measuring group member change talk (Amrhein, 2003). Therapist MI skills were similarly measured using the Motivational Interviewing Treatment Integrity instrument.
Group member responses to commitment predicted group marijuana use at the 1-month follow up. Also, group leader empathy was significantly associated with group commitment for marijuana use at the middle and ending stages of treatment.
Both of the above process measures were applied in a group setting for the first time. Building upon MI and social learning theory principles, group commitment and group member responses to commitment are new observable, in-session, process constructs that may predict positive and negative adolescent group treatment outcomes. These constructs, as well as the discourse analysis method and instruments used to measure them, raise many possibilities for future group work process research and practice.