Empathic Accuracy in the Therapy Room
The therapist’s ability to precisely read the patient’s emotions improves the outcome of the treatment
Empathic accuracy is a crucial clinical skill at the heart of many therapeutic interventions. A study conducted by Dr. Dana Atzil-Slonim, of the BIU Department of Psychology, and research partners examined the ability of therapists to precisely identify positive and negative emotions of their patients, and the correlation between empathic accuracy and treatment outcome.
The sample consisted of 93 patients at Bar-Ilan’s Community Services Clinic and 62 therapists. Before each encounter, the patients reported their symptoms; at the end of each encounter they ranked the level at which they felt a wide range of emotions, both positive and negative. The therapists, on the other hand, ranked their own emotions during the encounter as well as their evaluation regarding the patient’s emotions. The findings of the research show that most of the therapists were successful in precisely following their patients’ emotional fluctuations but tended to over-evaluate their patients’ negative emotions and under-evaluate their patients’ positive emotions. It was also found that therapists using emotions to evaluate their patients’ emotions were more precise.
One of the important findings teaches us that therapists who were successful in making more precise evaluations of their patients’ positive emotions helped them reach better outcomes. The research emphasizes the importance of empathic accuracy as a therapeutic skill and shows that therapists’ over-attention to negative emotions and their tendency to miss out on positive ones might damage therapeutic outcomes.