A Primer on the Evolution of Therapeutic Engagement in MFT: Understanding and Resolving the Dialectic Tension of Alliance and Neutrality. Part 1—Retrospective: The Evolution of Neutrality


alliance, neutrality, relational advocacy, marriage and family therapy, MFT


Alliance and neutrality are the two fundamental constructs defining therapeutic engagement. Although both are critical to positive clinical process and outcome, they become much more difficult to effectively balance in relational therapies. In many ways they coexist in an unrecognized dialectic tension. A history of the evolution of neutrality in relational therapies is provided. Evolutionary iterations of relational therapy have experimented with different formulations of the neutrality-alliance mix. We critique these hybrid conceptualizations of neutrality as they relate to the therapeutic alliance. In a second paper, we propose multipartiality and enactments as a dynamic, engaged neutrality that represents a fully realized relational advocacy.Together, the papers provide a primer on therapeutic engagement in MFT.

Original Publication Citation

Brimhall, A. S.*, & Butler, M. H.* (2011). A primer on the evolution of therapeutic engagement in MFT: Understanding and resolving the dialectic tension of alliance and neutrality. Part 1—Retrospective: The evolution of neutrality. The American Journalof Family Therapy, 39(1), 28-47.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



The American Journal of Family Therapy




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor