Empathy revisited: the effects of representational system matching on certain counseling process and outcome variables
Author: Brockman, William P.
Year of publication: 1980
Publishing house / periodical / university: Dissertation Abstracts International 41(8), 3421-A College of William and Mary, 167 pp. Order = 8103591
Therapist-offered empathy has been shown to be an important ingredient in the counseling relationship. Many operational definitions of empathy and tools for measurement of this elusive quality exist. Most empathy measures have been criticized on methodological grounds and their construct validity is suspect. Yet there is little argument with the trend which emerges from the data; the overall relationship between empathy, or those dimensions tapped by empathy measures and effective therapy appears positive. The nature of empathy, however, remains enigmatic and it is evident that all the variables which account for the empathetic process have not been explicated. This study defined and investigated the validity and effect on counseling of a new dimension of empathy. From their linguistic analysis of effective therapy, Bandler and Grinder have formulated the construct of representational systems or internal maps used by individuals to organize reality. Such maps are visual, auditory or kinesthetic, and are reflected in natural language. Do you see what I mean? Empathy, then, is operationally defined as the counselor’s matching language with the representational system used by the client. It was hypothesized that counselors who use representational system matching would: (1) be perceived by subjects as more empathetic than counselors who do not (accepted, p<.0045); (2) be perceived by judges as more empathetic than counselors who do not (accepted, p<.0165); (3) elicit a greater willingness to self- disclose than counselors who do not (rejected); and, (4) be preferred by clients over counselors who do not use representational matching (accepted, p<.05). Subjects (N=20) were undergraduates at The College of William and Mary who met with each of two counselors, in counterbalanced order, for an analogue of a beginning counseling interview. One counselor used representational system matching; the other counselor took a more generic, human relations approach to empathy. After each interview subjects completed Barrett-Lennard’s Relationship Inventory (RI) and Jourard’s Willingness-to-Disclose Questionnaire (WDQ). Following their second interview subjects indicated their preferred counselor. Covariates were: (1) Carkhuff’s Empathetic Understanding Scale (EU) which also served as a dependent measure; (2) the Counseling Readiness Scale (CRS) of Gough and Heilbrun’s Adjective Check List; and, (3) Rotter’s I-E scale. The Latin square design produced data analyzed by: repeated measures analysis of covariance (hypotheses 1-3); stepwise regression (hypotheses 1 & 2), and Chi Square (hypothesis 4). Results indicate that both subjects and judges perceived the representational system matching counselor as more empathetic than the generic empathy counselor. While EU accounted for 11.76% of the variance on RI-empathy scale scores, representational system matching accounted for 11.94% of the variance beyond that accounted for by EU. Clients preferred the representational system matching counselor by a ratio of 3 to 1. It was concluded that representational system matching is an important dimension of empathy and the recommendation was made that beginning courses in counseling techniques and human relations training include a section on identifying and responding to clients’ representational systems. Recommendations were made for further study.