Academic journal article The Spanish Journal of Psychology

Therapists' Verbal Behavior Analysis: A Descriptive Approach to the Psychotherapeutic Phenomenon

Academic journal article The Spanish Journal of Psychology

Therapists' Verbal Behavior Analysis: A Descriptive Approach to the Psychotherapeutic Phenomenon

Article excerpt

This paper presents some preliminary results from a different approach to research on psychotherapeutic processes. As activity in psychotherapy is predominantly verbal, we propose a scientific study of therapists' verbal behavior from a behaviorist perspective. Data were obtained through observational analysis of the recordings of 16 clinical sessions involving 4 cases, all of which based on individual cognitive-behavioral therapy with adults, in the framework of private clinical practice in Spain. The analysis used a previously validated system of categories and The Observer XT software to register and code data. A descriptive analysis enabled us to identify several patterns of psychologists' verbal behavior, irrespective of the therapist and/or the case analyzed. Notable differences were also observed in clinicians' performance, which raises important questions about potential variables associated with therapeutic change. Finally, we discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the present research agenda, the development of which should lead to a fuller understanding of the psychotherapeutic phenomenon.

Keywords: verbal behavior, process research, observational methodology, clinical sessions, psychotherapy.

El objetivo perseguido en este trabajo es presentar los primeros resultados de una nueva forma de abordar la investigación del proceso terapéutico. Partiendo del hecho de que la psicoterapia es eminentemente hablada, se propone el estudio científico de la conducta verbal de los psicólogos desde una perspectiva conductual. Los datos fueron obtenidos a partir del análisis observacional de las grabaciones de 16 sesiones clínicas procedentes de 4 casos distintos, todos ellos desarrollados en el marco de la terapia cognitivo-conductual individual con adultos en un centro privado español. Para la observación, codificación y registro de los datos se empleó un sistema de categorización previamente validado y el software The Observer XT. Un análisis descriptivo de los registros nos permitió identificar ciertos patrones de comportamiento verbal de los psicólogos, independientemente de las características particulares del caso y/o del terapeuta. Se apreciaron además notables diferencias en la forma de proceder de los clínicos, lo que sugiere importantes preguntas acerca de las posibles variables asociadas al cambio terapéutico. Por ultimo, se discuten las fortalezas y debilidades de esta nueva línea de investigación cuyo desarrollo permitirá una mejor y más completa comprensión del fenómeno clínico.

Palabras clave: conducta verbal, investigación de procesos, observación, sesiones clínicas, terapia de conducta.

In recent years, attention has focused mainly on the efficacy of psychological treatments to the detriment of research on the process of therapeutic change itself, although the latter could show not only what treatments work, but also how they work (Ablon, Levy, & Katzenstein, 2006). The study of processes in psychotherapy continues to be a complex field affected by conceptual confusion (Orlinsky, Ronnestad, & Willutzki, 2004), methodological plurality (Hill & Lambert, 2004) and a diversity of research objectives (Llewelyn & Hardy, 2001). Faced with this none too promising panorama, some authors have pointed to the need for new strategies to approach process research (Pachankis & Goldfried, 2007). Since we share this desire for renewal we embarked on a new line of research with the aim of establishing it as a different approach to the study of the psychotherapeutic phenomenon by avoiding the above-mentioned confusion. One of the objectives of this paper was to present the theoretical and methodological foundations for this proposal . The second objective involved showing some initial, purely descriptive, results, and the third was to outline potential future developments for this nascent line of research.

Starting by the account of the theroretical and methodological basis of this new research agenda, we must say that our proposal involved bringing together three main tenets, each with its own well-founded research tradition in scientific psychology. …

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