Association between therapist attunement to patient outcome expectation and worry reduction in two therapies for generalized anxiety disorder.
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Patients' higher psychotherapy outcome expectation (OE) correlates with improvement. Thus, it seems important that therapists attune to this belief, both in the moment and over time, to capitalize on its value when higher or respond to its potential risk when lower. Conceptually, attunement can have different guises, including the extent to which therapists (a) accurately estimate their patients' momentary OE level (low directional discrepancy), (b) become more accurate in estimating OE over time (convergence), (c) accurately track shifts in their patients' OE (temporal congruence), and (d) become more temporally congruent over time (alignment). To date, though, little is known empirically about therapist attunement to patient OE. Thus, we examined the presence of attunement indices and their relation to posttreatment outcome. Data derived from a randomized trial that compared cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT; n = 43) to CBT plus motivational interviewing (n = 42) for patients with generalized anxiety disorder. After each session, patients rated their OE, and therapists estimated their patients' OE. Patients rated worry at baseline and posttreatment. Dyadic multilevel modeling revealed that across both treatments, therapists were directionally discrepant in that they underestimated patients' OE (p < .001), which did not change over time (no average convergence/divergence pattern; p = .43). Additionally, therapists exhibited temporal congruence with patients' OE (p < .001) and became more aligned with this rating over time (p = .008). Only greater OE convergence, when it occurred, predicted lower worry (p = .04). A therapist's increasingly accurate empathy about their patients' OE may be therapeutic. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).
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