PhD project: Impression formation and judgment processes in the psychotherapeutic context: Description, determinants, and consequences of individual differences.

My PhD project addresses research areas central to the understanding of impression formation and judgement processes in the psychotherapeutic context. During psychotherapy, therapists continuously form clinical impressions and judgements (e.g., over their patients’ personality, their symptoms and their current mood, their motivations and their needs), both during initial diagnostic phases and throughout all subsequent psychotherapy sessions. Knowledge about these specific traits and states is essential to provide an appropriate therapy for the individual patient. Yet little is known about how accurately psychotherapists actually form these impressions and judgements. Just as little is known about the determinants and underlying processes of accurate or inaccurate judgement formation. My current research project seeks to bridge this gap in the literature and to inform practitioners to improve the accuracy of their impression and judgement formation in the long run.

I aim to investigate therapeutic accuracy comprehensively, by focusing on three major perspectives:

  • a)    Description: How accurate are psychotherapists in judging therapy-relevant traits and states of their patients? How does the degree of accuracy change in the course the psychotherapy? How does the therapeutic accuracy account for differences in therapeutic outcomes?
  • b)    Moderation: Which are the determinants that influence the accuracy of therapeutic judgements? Which of the determining factors are patient variables and which are therapist variables? And do these accuracy-moderating variables potentially interact?
  • c)    Processes: What are the underlying processes that lead to accurate (or inaccurate) judgement about patients‘ therapy-relevant traits and states? Which “behavioural cues” are sent out by the patients during therapy? And how do therapists use these specific behavioural cues to form judgements about patients‘ traits and states?

To answer these questions, a longitudinal study will be conducted in a local psychotherapy ambulance. Both therapists and their patients (nested structure) will thereby participate as our study subjects. Across multiple measurement points, patients will be asked to fill out questionnaires about their personality and their current states. Equally, therapists will be asked to indicate their current impressions about how they assume their patients will fill out the very same questionnaires. At the end of the therapy, therapy outcome measures (symptom reduction, patients’ life satisfaction, well-being) will be analysed in connection to therapeutic accuracy.

Our work extends beyond past research by:
(a) tracking the development of therapeutic accuracy at close intervals over several months to the point of years
(b) focusing on dynamic processes underlying this development
(c) systematically examining individual differences in therapeutic accuracy (and in the underlying processes)

Research interest

  • Accuracy in personality judgments
  • Psychotherapy research (esp. interpersonal judgments in the therapeutic context)
  • Personality Disorders
  • Clinical and subclinical Narcissism
  • Socioemotional Cognition (Empathy, Theory of Mind, Emotion Recognition)