Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences, Vol. 20, Iss. 2, April, 2016, pp. 145-166
@2016 Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology & Life Sciences


Movement Coordination in Psychotherapy: Synchrony of Hand Movements is Associated with Session Outcome. A Single-Case Study

Fabian Ramseyer, University of Bern, Switzerland
Wolfgang Tschacher, University of Bern, Switzerland

Abstract: Previous work has shown that nonverbal behavior was associated with both session-level outcome and global outcome in psychotherapy. Nonverbal synchrony - here the coordination between patient”s and psychotherapist”s movement behavior - is a facet of nonverbal behavior that has recently been studied with video-based motion energy analysis (MEA). The present study aimed to replicate and extend these findings by using direct acquisition of movement data. In a single-case analysis, we monitored patient”s and therapist”s hand movements with a high-resolution accelerometric measurement system (Vitaport (r)). In addition to these behavioral data, both patient and therapist provided session-level ratings of various factors relevant to the psychotherapy process, which were assessed with post-session questionnaires. The patient-therapist coordination of hand movements, i.e. nonverbal synchrony, in (N = 27) sessions of this dyadic psychotherapy was positively associated with progress reported in post-session questionnaires. Sessions with good evaluations concerning the quality of therapeutic alliance were characterized by high movement coordination. Thus, accelerometric data of this therapy dyad confirmed previous findings gained through video analyses: The coordination of nonverbal behavior shown by patient and therapist was an indicator of beneficial processes occurring within sessions. This replication study showed that nonverbal synchrony embodies important aspects of the alliance. Its assessment and quantification may provide therapists important additional information on processes that usually occur outside conscious awareness, but that nevertheless influence core aspects of the therapy.

Keywords: nonverbal synchrony, movement coordination, accelerometer, psychotherapy