Macquarie University
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What therapists feel: personal and professional factors in therapists' affective experience

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posted on 2022-03-28, 01:52 authored by Jill Duffield
In recent years there has been increasing recognition of the importance to psychological therapy of the therapeutic relationship. As acknowledgement has grown that, regardless of theoretical approach to therapy, a good relationship between therapist and client is fundamental to the ultimate success and outcome of psychological therapy, there has been greater theoretical and research interest in the qualities that contribute to the making of an effective relationship. -- Although it differs in a number of its dimensions from other, more prototypical, relationships, the therapeutic relationship shares with them several defining features. One such feature is that both participants experience emotions in the course of therapy. This contravenes the long-held view that the therapist is a benign and objective participant in the therapeutic process, one who is not subject to the emotions normal to membership of most other types of relationships. This stereotype has been hard to break and even now, when the relationship itself receives plentiful recognition, there lingers a belief that the therapist should not feel. To do so is implicitly held to render the therapist unprofessional, unscientific, and vulnerable, and perhaps because these beliefs persist unchallenged, some clinical training programmes still fail to more than cursorily deal with the issue of therapist emotion. -- In the first study of this thesis, male and female undergraduate students of psychology first completed self-report measures of personality and trait affect, and then assumed the mental set of therapist to observe simulated interviews with four female clients presenting a variety of affect-inducing behavioural styles. At the conclusion of each interview participants reported what they felt about each client using an eleven item adjective checklist. Responses were aggregated across the four client interviews and mean negative and positive affect scores were obtained. Both the gender and personality of the participants were found to contribute to the variance in state affective response. Specifically, male participants responded with more state negative affect than did female participants, and female participants showed a trend to respond with more state positive affect, even when trait affect was controlled for. -- Of the five broad personality dimensions measured, only Neuroticism showed a relationship to state affective experience, with high Neurotic participants reporting experiencing more negative affect than low Neurotic participants. However, the effect did not persist when trait negative affect level was taken into account, suggesting that the affective response to the interviews was trait- rather than situationally-based. One unpredicted result was that high Neurotic participants reported less positive affect than low Neurotic participants. -- The second study essentially replicated the first with a large group of practising therapists from a range of professional backgrounds. The results showed that male and female therapists reported similar levels of both state negative and positive affect, even when trait affect was controlled for, and again, the only personality dimension to show a significant relationship to state affect was Neuroticism. with therapists high in Neuroticism reported experiencing more negative affect than therapists low in Neuroticism. However, in contrast to the study using student participants, when trait negative affect was included as a covariate, the significant difference between the low and high Neuroticism groups persisted. This suggested that, for practising therapists, at least some of the negative affect experienced by more neurotic therapists was a response to the specific context of the task and not just a reflection of enduring trait levels of affect. -- The final phase of this research was to consider the effects of factors intrinsic to the role of therapist for their association with affect experienced in psychological therapy; specifically, theoretical orientation, and the professional affiliation of the therapist. When these two variables and the personality dimension Neuroticism were analysed for their effects on global affective experience, only personality was found to have an independent relationship to state negative affect. However, theoretical orientation interacted with level of Neuroticism, as did also professional affiliation. Specifically, high Neurotic occupational therapists responded to the interviews with more positive affect than high Neurotic members of other professional groups. Moreover, low Neurotic occupational therapists reported the lowest levels of positive affect. In other words, occupational therapists showed an opposite positive affective response to other professional groups at both low and high levels of Neuroticism. -- In sum, each of the variables examined in this research showed some relationship to affective experience. Implications of these results for theory and therapy are discussed, and it is argued, in particular, that if the results of this research accurately reflect the way in which personality, gender, professional orientation, and role impact on therapists' affective experience of clients, then it is critically important for training programmes to incorporate components in their programs that alert and educate trainee therapists to these potential effects.


Table of Contents

1. Overview and plan of thesis -- 2. Conceptualising therapy and the therapeutic relationship -- 3. Conceptualising affect -- 4. Therapist affect and the therapeutic relationship -- 5. Factors contributing to therapist affective experience -- 6. Creating and validating the stimulus materials -- 7. Personality, gender and affective experience in a simulated therapeutic task: introduction and method -- 8. Personality, gender and affective experience in a simulated therapeutic task: results and discussion -- 9. The effects of gender and personality on therapist affective experience -- 10. Effects of theoretical orientation and professional affiliation on therapist affective experience -- 11. General discussion. -- Appendix A and B(some photos were taken down due to copyright reasons in Appendix A.)


Bibliography: pages 230-252

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Division of Linguistics and Psychology, Department of Psychology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Psychology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Ronald Rapee

Additional Supervisor 1

Julie Fitness


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Jill Duffield 2000.




1 online resource (xiii, 252, [9] pages) illustrations

Former Identifiers

mq:29915 2121347