Pro Social Modelling and the Therapeutic Alliance

Pro Social Modelling and the Therapeutic Alliance

Chris Trotter’s ‘pro-social modelling’ approach (Trotter, 1999; 2009) is one of the best known approaches in the delivery of criminal justice interventions that focuses on the worker-client relationship. The ‘pro-social model’, or ‘pro-social practice’, is an approach to working with offenders that includes collaborative problem-solving and role clarification, as well as modelling pro-social values (Trotter, 2009). It recognises that the worker-client relationship plays a central role in helping people to change and underpins the practitioner’s ability to have a pro-social influence.

As Trotter (2010) notes, two key elements of the approach are: taking a collaborative approach to goal setting, where goals are clear, specific and are agreed by both the worker and the client; and an agreement on the strategies or tasks required to meet the goals. Both of these elements are included in Bordin’s three-component alliance construct. Another area of commonality with pro-social modelling and both the concepts of the therapeutic working alliance is that optimism is a strong and positive force for change (Trotter, 1999). Here practitioners should seek to highlight and encourage the positive aspects of what the clients brings with them, over discouraging the negatives. Pro-social modelling also recognises the importance of the wider therapeutic relationship, including the need for empathy, active listening, openness and honesty, and a collaborative rather than a confrontational approach (Trotter, 1999; Trotter, 2009). The most effective probation officers in a study by Trotter used the least amount of confrontation, and the probation officers with the lowest levels of empathy had clients with the highest levels of recidivism (Trotter, 1999). An examination of relationship skills and complementary ‘structuring skills’ such as pro-social modelling and motivational interviewing in probation practice found that probation practitioners exhibiting higher skills in these areas had clients with lower conviction rates.

Role Clarification or Role Induction

A key component of the pro-social model is role clarification, involving agreement between both the worker and the client about what each person’s role is in the relationship and the purpose of the intervention, in essence an agreement on ‘what are we here for?’ (Trotter, 1999: 18). In criminal justice interventions particularly, the worker–client relationship can be lopsided in terms of power, making collaboration and mutual agreement on goals harder. Striking a balance between the dual role of enforcement and helping is one of the biggest challenges, but it can be made more manageable through role clarification (Trotter, 2006). 

Within criminal justice interventions role clarification or induction often includes a discussion about treatment expectations, the use of authority, non-negotiable as well as negotiable aspects of the intervention, and the boundaries of confidentiality. Within substance user treatment and support, ‘role induction’ may take the form of interventions designed to introduce and educate clients about what to expect from treatment, as well as establishing an understanding of their own and the practitioner’s role. This also addresses aspects of the ‘task of treatment’ element of the therapeutic working alliance in terms of who will be responsible for what parts of the process of achieving the desired outcomes. 

Incorporating role induction into the first session of psychosocial treatment has been found to produce a greater positive change in attitude towards treatment and improves subsequent client reports of perceived practitioner rapport and treatment satisfaction, as well as other measures of treatment engagement such as retention. Clients often commence treatment with preconceived ideas about what treatment will involve, how long it will last and how soon they can expect positive results. These expectations can be unrealistic and that later on, this can affect the efficacy of treatment. Role induction therefore reduces the probability that clients will leave treatment before their goals are reached.

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TROTTER, C. (1999). Working with Involuntary Clients. London, Sage Publishing.

TROTTER, C. (2006). Working with Involuntary Clients: A Guide to Practice. Thousand Oaks, Sage.

TROTTER, C. (2009). Pro-Social Modelling. European Journal of Probation, 1, (2), 142-152.

TROTTER, C. (2010). Working with families in criminal justice. In: MCNEILL, F., RAYNOR, P. & TROTTER, C. (eds.) Offender Supervision - New directions in theory, research and practice. (pp. Cullompton: Willan Publishing.



About Hugh Asher


Hugh is an author, practitioner, trainer, researcher and consultant.

He keeps rare breed sheep and cows.

He also shares his house with the world’s largest puppy, called Charlie.

Although he was told from a young age that “Life isn’t fair” he has refused
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His vision for a better world involves giving people the skills and
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