CNPS Research Colloquium: Two Methods for Operationalizing Therapist Interpersonal Flexibility

Two Methods for Operationalizing Therapist Interpersonal Flexibility
Date: Thursday April 1st, 2021 11:30-1 PST

Speaker: Dr. Dennis M. Kivlighan

Professor University of Maryland, College Park; Editor Journal of Counseling Psychology

“The disturbed person consistently broadcasts a rigid and extreme self-presentation and simultaneously pulls for a rigid and constricted relationship from others” including the therapist Kiesler 1988, p. 17). The therapist’s “basic function is to disrupt the patient’s rigid and extreme interpersonal style, first by not providing the complementary response (Kiesler, 1988, p. 28). Therefore, therapist interpersonal flexibility is an index of how well the therapist disrupts the client’s rigid interpersonal style. I describe two methods for operationalizing therapist flexibility and examine how therapist flexibility relates to client collaboration. Method 1 defines therapist flexibility as the Euclidean distance, in two-dimensional space, between the therapist’s response at T and their response at T+1. Method 2 defines therapist flexibility using polynomial regression and response surface analysis to examine how combinations of therapist’s control and affiliative behaviors relate to client collaboration. Method: The first 4 sessions from counseling dyads for 2 advanced students and 1 Licensed psychologist were recorded, transcribed, and coded for client collaboration and therapist statements were coded for approach-avoidance (level of affiliation) and dominance-submission (level of control). Using data partitioning and multi-level modeling, we examined the association of between-session and within-session (between speaking turns) therapist flexibility (Euclidean distance from speaking turn T to T+1), and subsequent client collaboration. Results: There was both a linear and quadratic effect; with both between-turn therapist flexibility and between-turn therapist flexibility2 significantly related to change in collaboration. At low and moderate levels of therapist flexibility, as therapists are more flexible in a turn, than they are typically, subsequent client collaboration increases. However, at high levels of therapist flexibility, as therapists are more flexible, in a turn, that they typically are, client collaboration decreases. In therapists’ turns that were more submissive-approaching and dominant-avoiding (compared to the therapist’s typical turn) clients increased their collaboration. However, dominant-approaching or submissive-avoiding therapist turns were unrelated to increased collaboration.

The meeting will occur over ZOOM, and details have been sent to all ECPS students and faculty.