Monday, January 18, 2010

Change Process Research on Relational Depth: The Added Paragraph

Entry for 18 January 2010:

Sometimes, an editor or reviewer will call for a last-minute revision that turns out to be a kind of gift, because it takes the paper to another level. In my forthcoming paper on Change Process Research, to appear in the next month or two in Psychotherapy Research, one of the reviewers challenged me to add an example of how the framework of types of change process research I’d been presenting might inspire research. When I asked myself what kind of therapy process might provide a good example, I suddenly thought of Relational Depth, which is a sort of University of Strathclyde speciality. The following paragraph came quickly after that, as I outlined a program of research on this therapy process variable:

Instead [of an RCT on Relational Depth], any one of the designs reviewed here provides a sounder basis for inferring the operation of particular therapy processes in bringing about client change. The optimal strategy, however, is to use several different Change Process Research designs, within or across studies, to build a convincing case for a particular change process. Take for example relational depth (Mearns & Cooper, 2005), a newly-minted formulation for a powerful state of felt connectedness between client and therapist. In order to make a strong case for the causal efficacy of this change process, researchers might want to start with Helpful Factors studies, in order to document the existence and general nature of moments of relational depth (e.g., Knox, 2008). Next, Significant Events studies, using Comprehensive Process Analysis or Task Analysis, could be used to develop and refine models of how client and therapist behaviors and experiences unfold and interact during episodes of relational depth. These models could be further tested at a micro-process level using the Sequential Analysis approach. Finally, quantitative measures (e.g., Wiggins, 2009) could be developed and used in Process-Outcome studies to predict therapy outcome. A body of such complementary studies would go a long way toward establishing the causal efficacy of relational depth in bringing about change in therapy, something that would be difficult if not impossible to do using randomized clinical trials.


Knox, R. (2008) Clients’ experiences of relational depth in person-centred counselling. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 8:3, 182-188.

Mearns, D. & Cooper, M. (2005). Working at Relational Depth in Counselling and Psychotherapy. London: Sage.

Wiggins, S. (March, 2009). Developing the Relational Depth Inventory: Prevalence, Moderators & Characteristics of Relational Depth Events. Paper presented at Meeting of the UK Chapter of the Society for Psychotherapy Research, Ravenscar, UK.

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