Therapist empathy, homework compliance, and outcome in cognitive behavioral therapy for generalized anxiety disorder: partitioning within- and between-therapist effects
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Although client-perceived therapist empathy relates to positive therapy outcomes, including in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), little is known about how empathy exerts its ameliorative effect. One possible way is by promoting clients' subsequent homework compliance, a variable that also predicts positive outcomes in CBT. The present study sought to investigate simultaneously, in the context of 43 therapist-client dyads receiving 15 sessions of CBT for generalized anxiety disorder, (1) the association of early client-perceived therapist empathy (averaged over sessions 1, 3, 5) with mid-treatment client homework compliance (averaged over sessions 6, 8, 10); (2) the association of mid-treatment homework compliance on client posttreatment worry severity; and (3) the indirect effect of early perceived therapist empathy on posttreatment worry through mid-treatment homework compliance. Given that clients were nested within therapists, we examined both within- and between-therapist differences in clients' ratings of therapist empathy and homework compliance, and tested both of these indices as predictors of the relevant dependent variables in a multilevel model. At the within-therapist level (i.e., differences between clients within a given therapist's caseload), greater early empathy was associated with greater mid-treatment homework compliance. At the between-therapist level (i.e., differences between therapists across all of their cases), greater between-therapist homework compliance was related to lower posttreatment worry. Finally, homework compliance was not found to mediate the relationship between empathy and posttreatment outcome. The results underscore the importance of parsing client and therapist effects, and are discussed with regard to their training and research implications.
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