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Reciprocal language style matching in psychotherapy research

LIWC Research Series:

Successful coordination of language, that is language style matching (LSM; Gonzales, Hancock, & Pennebaker, 2010) indicated by interdependent use of function words, might be of particular relevance to the psychotherapy process. Empirically, two previous psychotherapy studies indicate that LSM may provide a deeper understanding of the quality of the therapeutic alliance. Theoretically, this process of implicit linguistic coordination may be conceptualised as interpersonal synergy (Riley, Richardson, Shockley, & Ramenzoni, 2011). To illustrate the potential of LSM in psychotherapy research, patterns of LSM per 5 min segments and reciprocal LSM per speaking turn were assessed in a seven-session treatment demonstration of a narcissistic client. First, LSM predicted observed frequency of ruptures but did not predict observer-rated working alliance in the corresponding 5 min segments. Second, LSM in these 5 min segments showed a quadratic trajectory of change within session and a stable pattern between sessions. Reciprocal LSM per speaking turn showed that within the majority of this treatment, the client followed the therapist's language style; however, this influence appeared to be bidirectional during the time of a physical altercation in session five. LSM may thus provide a novel way to study some of the more elusive aspects of the therapeutic interaction.

Read the paper


Ueli Kramer, Ladislav Timulak, Introduction to the Special Section ‘Innovative counselling and psychotherapy research methods’: Defining the future of counselling and psychotherapy research, Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 10.1002/capr.12317, 20, 3, (419-421), (2020).

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