Sunday, December 21, 2014

Book Chapter by Muntigl et al on Empathic Practices in Person-Centred Therapy

I've now read the parts of a book chapter by Muntigl and colleagues (available on Google Books, see link at bottom of this entry). This is a very interesting conversation analysis study based on videos from the person-centred arm of Greenberg et al.'s York Depression studies comparing person-centred to EFT.  There is some really nice stuff here, i.e., "troubles telling" as "empathic opportunity", and five kinds of empathic response favoured by person-centred therapists: naming another's feelings, gist formulations, upshot formulations, and co-completing another's utterances, and nonverbal following responses.  Some of these are newly described.  They also describe the precision with which nonverbal following responses are offered in response to indicators of the client's affectual stance.  I particularly liked their discussion of the delicate epistemic stance of person-centred therapists. 

I realise that few person-centred therapists are into conversation analysis, but I think that this sort of analysis really captures to how good person-centred therapy and counselling actualy works.  I would like all my students on our Person-Centred Postgrad Diploma Counselling at Strathclyde to know this stuff, and I wish I could develop some sort of research input for the course on this.  It's also very relevant to EFT practice, which is based on person-centred empathic work as its baseline. 

As a side-note, one of our MSc students, Catherine Cowie, recently completed her dissertation on the same topic, so it will be useful for us to compare her results to those of Muntigl et al.  In the meantime, I'll just give the reference here and add my endorsement to this line of research: 

Muntigl, P., Knight, N. & Watkins A. (2014). Empathic practices in client-centred psychotherapies: Displaying understanding and affiliation with clients.  In E-M. Graf, M. Sator & T Spranz-Fogasy (eds.), Discourses of Helping Professions (pp. 33–57). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.

Author summary: DOI: 10.1075/pbns.252.03mun
Google Books extracts:

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Do Biological Explanations of Psychological Difficulties Reduce Empathy in Mental Health Professionals?

Interesting report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (USA) about a series of clinical perception analog studies in which mental health practitioners were given written vignettes of clients/patients with common mental health difficulties (schizophrenia, depression, social phobia), and then randomly given either biological or psychosocial explanations for the person's problems. (I thought the explanations were quite well done and evidence-based.) After that, they were asked to rate their feelings toward the client on 6 relational emotions (including "warm, compassionate, sympathetic"), labelled by the researchers as "empathy". 

Results: The researchers said that they had expected that the biological explanations would make practitioners more sympathetic to the hypothetical clients.  Instead, they were surprised to find that the so-called empathy ratings were higher when practitioners were given psychosocial explanations (e.g., trauma, poor living conditions, family conflict) than biological explanations (e.g., family history of the problem, MRI results.) 

I think that humanistic psychologists will not be surprised by these results, since this is consistent with what we have been warning of for years. Still, it is a sobering finding for those of us who do like to dabble in neuroscience (e.g., brain correlates of empathy).  However, I think that what is really going on here is that the psychosocial explanations provided a more coherent narrative for the person's problems, locating them within the person's life history and context to a much greater extent that the biological explanations did.  Empathic, caring emotions are much easier to access within a narrative context.