Inspiring positive beliefs about therapy in clients

04 November 2022

New research suggests that therapists who demonstrate warmth and competence can shape their patients’ expectations by inspiring more positive beliefs about the effectiveness of therapy.

In their study entitled ‘How to Change Negative Outcome Expectations in Psychotherapy? The Role of the Therapist’s Warmth and Competence,’ the researchers from the Philipps-University of Marburg, Germany investigated the therapists’ interpersonal behaviour and its effect on addressing negative outcome expectations held by the patient. After inducing negative expectations in an online experiment, the researchers presented different videos of therapist–patient interactions to change the negative outcome expectations, keeping the information constant and manipulating the therapist’s warmth and competence.

Results confirmed a significant influence of the therapist’s warmth and competence on expectations; the most positive outcome expectations result when the therapist was both warm and competent.

The authors conclude that therapy for conditions like generalised anxiety disorder, substance abuse, and chronic pain often involves encouraging patients to develop more positive expectations by challenging their existing, unrealistically negative beliefs and attitudes. ‘Practitioner characteristics like competence and warmth could be one reason that patients react differently to the same kinds of therapy implemented by different practitioners,’ they added.