Confidentiality in therapy is vital to the therapeutic process. Confidentiality also means outside observers cannot weigh in on the quality of therapy. In search of a reliable way to evaluate therapy quality, a study published this month in PLOS One proposes one potential model: a computer that can evaluate therapists’ empathy.
Evaluating Empathy with a Computer
Researchers from University of Southern California, University of Washington, and University of Utah say methods for evaluating therapy that require an outside observer can potentially alter the therapeutic process and undermine confidentiality. As an alternative, they developed a program that listens to therapy sessions, then rates the therapist as either “high empathy” or “low empathy” based on a speech analysis.
Using therapist training sessions, the team taught the program to detect empathy cues in language. Phrases that signal the highest amounts of empathy include “it sounds like,” “do you think,” and “what I’m hearing.”
The University of Southern California’s Signal Analysis and Interpretation Lab continues to improve upon the model. Researchers are now working to help the program analyze tone of voice, diction, and the extent to which a therapist mirrors the speech patterns of people in therapy.
The Role of Empathy in Therapy
Empathy is just one component of quality therapy, but Hardie-Williams said it is vital to people’s willingness to openly share with their therapists.
“I believe genuine empathy is important in therapy because in order to maintain the therapeutic alliance, [people] need to be able to perceive that the therapist can share [their] emotions and experiences,” Hardie-Williams said. “[People] who come in for therapy often have a deep shame core that gets in their way, and in order to process it, they need to share their shame with someone they feel emotionally safe with.”
Choosing a Therapist
Everyone may seek something different from a therapist, but in general it can be important to recognize some guidelines for effective therapy. People seeking a therapist should also be attuned to warning signs of bad or ineffective therapy.
Blumenthal, A. (2015, December 2). Can you tell if your therapist has empathy? Retrieved from https://news.usc.edu/89274/can-you-tell-if-your-therapist-has-empathy/
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