Emotional Displays by Mental Health Professionals: A Survey Study of Therapists' and Clients' Opinions and Experiences Open Access

Caron-Besch, Marcia L. (2012)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/cn69m507m?locale=en


The topic of therapists' emotions is often discussed in practice settings, occasionally
explored in theoretical writings, but rarely subjected to empirical investigation (Najavits,
2000). The current study used electronic survey methodology to explore the opinions and
experiences of both mental health professionals/therapists and mental health
consumers/clients with regard to three emotional displays by therapists: crying, laughing,
and shouting/yelling. The obtained sample of 106 therapists was 76.4% female and
85.8% European American/White, with a mean age of 37.8 years and 10.3 years of
clinical experience. The obtained sample of 87 clients was 85.1% female and 94.3%
European American/White, with a mean age of 38.9 years and 4.3 years in therapy.
Among therapists, 33.0% reported having cried in session, 91.0% having laughed in
session, and 17.6% having shouted/yelled in session. Female therapists reported crying
more in both their personal and professional lives, while male therapists were more likely
to raise their voices in sessions, but not in their personal lives. In general, men and
women and therapists and clients endorsed comparable opinions of the different
emotional displays. However, male clients reported expecting to react less negatively to
their therapists shouting/yelling than did female clients. Overall, respondents held much
more favorable opinions of therapists laughing in session as compared to crying and more
favorable opinions of therapists crying in session as compared to shouting/yelling. Clients
were more comfortable with higher levels of laughing and lower levels of
shouting/yelling, while both clients and therapists reported that higher levels of crying
had more positive effects on treatment. Therapists' levels of emotional expressivity in
session, but not in their personal lives, were positively related to their opinions of the
emotional displays. More years in therapy, experiences with having therapists be
emotionally expressive, and (to a lesser degree) stronger working alliances were all
related to clients expressing more favorable opinions of therapists' emotional displays.
Potential beneficial and harmful effects of, reasons for, and outcomes from the emotional
displays are summarized as described by therapist and client respondents. Implications
for clinical practice guidelines, therapist training, and clinical supervision; study
limitations; and future directions in research on therapist emotionality are discussed.

Table of Contents

I. Introduction 1
Ethical Considerations
Scientific Literature on Emotional Experience and Expression
Theoretical Views of Therapists' Emotions
Scientific Literature on Crying
Reasons for Therapists' Emotional Displays
Clients' Reactions to Therapists' Emotional Displays
Statement of Problem

II. Method 32

III. Results 43

Frequency Reports and Descriptive Statistics
Research Hypotheses
Quantitative Questions of Interest
Qualitative Questions of Interest
IV. Discussion 61
Review of Findings
Practical and Theoretical Implications
Future Directions

V. References 74

VI. Appendices 92
VII. Tables 109

VIII. Figures 121

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