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Psychother Res. 2018 Mar;28(2):165-182. doi: 10.1080/10503307.2017.1349350. Epub 2017 Jul 17.

How clients "change emotion with emotion": A programme of research on emotional processing.

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a Department of Psychology , University of Windsor , Windsor , Canada.


This paper reviews a body of research that has examined Pascual-Leone and Greenberg's sequential model of emotional processing or used its accompanying measure (the Classification of Affective Meaning States). Research from 24 studies using a plurality of methods examined process-outcome relationships from micro to macro levels of observation and builds support for emotional transformation as a possible causal mechanism of change in psychotherapy. A pooled sample of 310 clinical and 130 sub-clinical cases have been studied, reflecting the process of 7 different treatment approaches in addressing over 5 different presenting clinical problems (including depression, anxiety, relational trauma, and personality disorders). The initial findings on this model support the hypothesis that emotional transformation occurs in specific canonical sequences and these show large effects in the prediction of positive treatment outcomes. This model is the first in the field of psychotherapy to show how non-linear temporal patterns of moment-by-moment process relate to the unfolding of increasingly larger changes to create good psychotherapy treatment outcomes. Finally, clinical application of the model is also considered as a template for case formulations focused on emotion. Clinical or methodological significance of this article: This review article examines research on a specific model of emotional processing. (i) Experiencing certain key emotions during psychotherapy seems to predict good treatment outcomes, at both the session and treatment levels. (ii) There is also evidence to suggest that these productive emotional experiences unfold in an ordered pattern. Moreover, (iii) support for this way of understanding emotional processing comes from a number of very different treatment approaches and for several kinds of major disorders.


change mechanism; dynamic systems; emotional processing; process; transformation

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