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Neuro-Linguistic Programming
Research Data Base [ Sperber K, 1983. | Id:156 ]


Sperber K: The language of empathy. Dissertation Abstracts International 45(2), 688-B University of Maine (Pub = AAC8412526): 173, 1983.

Abstract: This study was designed to test certain hypotheses regarding the linguistic communication of empathy in psychotherapy. The definition and theory of empathy was discussed in detail revealing two essential points: (1) Empathy must be perceived by the client to have therapeutic effect, and (2) empathy must involve both an understanding of the client's immediate feeling, and the context from which that experience takes its meaning --i.e., the client's world-view. Consideration of these points resulted in the selection of the Barrett-Lennard Relationship Inventory as the most valid existing measure of empathy for employment in this study. Previous researchers in this area have commonly assumed that there is a set of linguistic behaviors that are "empathetic" and will be seen as being empathetic regardless of the client. Although some hypotheses of this type were tested here, the major thrust of the present study was the hypothesis that the communication of empathy relies at least equally on the degree of match or congruence between the speech of therapist and client. Such congruence was hypothesized to communicate a "sharing" of both immediate feelings as well as of attitudes, values and cognitive styles, which are the context for those feelings. Specifically, this thesis was tested with regard to the following dimensions of speech: vocabulary, content, primary vs. secondary processes, primary representational system (PRS), time orientation, feeling orientation, rate of speech, and length of pauses and latencies. Measures devised to tap these variables were applied to tape recordings and transcripts of first sessions of psychotherapy conducted by clinical psychology graduate students. Computer executed content analysis was used extensively. The results did not support the hypotheses. Possible reasons are discussed including heterogeneity of sample, special factors relevant to the early phase of therapy, and the possibility that empathy may be communicated paralinguistically. Post hoc analyses revealed that female therapists were rated significantly higher in empathy and the other variables of this study differed in some cases depending on the gender of the therapist. These and other exploratory analyses are discussed and ramifications for future research are outlined.

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