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Language Style Synchrony Predicts Empathy in Psychotherapy

In this study, the researchers investigated the relationship between language style synchrony (LSS) and empathy in psychotherapy. They used linguistic inquiry and word count to estimate LSS of adjacent client and therapist talk turns, and compared high and low empathy sessions based on the Motivational Interviewing Treatment Integrity global rating scale. The results showed that high-empathy sessions had greater LSS across 11 language style categories compared with low-empathy sessions, and overall, average LSS was notably higher in high-empathy versus low-empathy sessions. Regression analyses also showed that LSS was predictive of empathy ratings over and above reflection counts.

The findings suggest that synchrony in language style between client and therapist can predict gestalt ratings of empathy in psychotherapy, and may have implications for the study of motivational interviewing (MI) process and the training of therapists. This new objective indicator of empathy, in addition to traditional gestalt ratings and reflective listening, provides a more direct test of psychological processes that are theorized to be important components of empathy in psychotherapy. By incorporating language style synchrony into their training, therapists may be better equipped to develop synchrony in dyads and provide effective evidence-based behavioral treatments like MI.


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