Countertransference Behavior in Long-Term Psychotherapies

2019-2023 / Lead: Dr. Christian Sell

Cooperation with University Kassel

Project Outline
This project is a psychoanalytically informed process-outcome study in psychotherapy research. It aims at investigating the role of countertransference behavior in different forms of long-term psychotherapy, including psychoanalysis.

As our primary data we have received permission to use audio-recorded therapy sessions as well as outcome and process data from the Munich Psychotherapy Study (MPS; PI: Prof. Dr. Dr. Dorothea Huber; N = 100). The MPS is a quasi-experimental comparative outcome study on the effectiveness of psychoanalysis, psychodynamic therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for patients with depressive disorders. Its results show that while all forms of therapy are similarly effective at the end of treatment, patients treated psychoanalytically continue to improve during the 3-year follow-up period. From a psychoanalytic perspective, we assume that therapists’ ability to deal with their countertransference manifestations productively, while avoiding malignant forms of enactment, is a likely candidate to explain such variance in long-term outcome.

In this study, we shall use an observer-rated instrument, the Interpersonal Transaction Scales (ITS-8; Sadler et al., in press), to assess and quantify behavioral manifestations of the therapists’ countertransference in the MPS treatments. Following Wolf, Goldfried, and Muran (2017) what we are looking to measure can also be termed “negative therapist behavior”, that is, therapist behavior which appears to stem from emotional and motivational reactions of the therapist and which in some way is judged to be “too much” or “not enough” with respect to a certain quality of interpersonal relationships. In a currently ongoing research project, we have validated the ITS-8 as a psychometrically sound and suitable measure of countertransference behavior as described above. The ITS-8 is an observer-rated scale based on the interpersonal circumplex model (Kiesler, 1983). During the rating, trained and supervised graduate research assistants listen to recorded psychotherapy sessions and indicate on a total of 48 items the degree to which certain types of interpersonal behavior are shown by the therapist. The design envisages the rating of a total of N = 300 therapy sessions from psychoanalytic, psychodynamic, and CBT therapies. For each individual therapy we shall rate three sessions: the third session, the middle session, and the third-to-last session. Following the rating procedure, we shall use hierarchical linear regression analysis to statistically model antecedents, correlates and consequences of countertransference behavior.

The project is planned with a duration of 24 months. We have received an IPA Research Grant to facilitate the data collection phase, that is the observer-rating of audio-recorded therapy sessions from the Munich Psychotherapy Study. This phase will be finished after the first 12 months (milestone 1). The remainder of the project duration will be devoted to data analysis (milestone 2) and the writing of a manuscript for publication (milestone 3).


Project Team
IPU Berlin
Prof. Dr. Dr. Dorothea Huber

Imke Grimm, M.A. Psych.
Phone: +49 30 300 117-776

University Kassel
Dr. Christian Sell
Phone: +49-(0)561-804 2896