Growth curves of clients’ emotional experience and their association with emotion regulation and symptoms

Hadar Fisher, Dana Atzil-Slonim, Eran Bar-Kalifa, Eshkol Rafaeli, Tuvia Peri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Objective: Emotional experience during psychotherapy is considered a core mechanism of change. Yet the sheer experience itself may not necessarily be beneficial; instead, the trajectories of emotional experience need to be explored as possible predictors of treatment outcomes. This study investigated whether clients’ pre-treatment levels of emotion regulation and symptoms predicted patterns of session-to-session change in emotional experience. We also explored which patterns better predict clients’ improvement in emotion regulation and symptoms from pre- to post treatment. Method: One-hundred and seven clients undergoing psychodynamic psychotherapy completed questionnaires on their symptoms and emotion regulation at pre- and post- treatment. They also reported their level of emotional experience at the end of each session. Results: Pre-treatment symptoms and difficulties in emotion regulation predicted greater instability in emotional experience. Higher mean levels of emotional experience during treatment were associated with an improvement in emotion regulation, and greater stability during treatment was associated with improvement in emotion regulation and symptoms. Conclusions: These findings lend weight to the idea that experiencing emotion in the therapeutic environment has significant implications for clients’ ability to manage their emotions outside the session. However, emotions experienced in an unstable manner within therapy are associated with poorer outcomes. Clinical and methodological significance of this article: Therapists can benefit from observing the patterns and not only the level of their clients’ emotional experiences. The identification of clients’ difficulties early in treatment may help therapists guide clients through the delicate process of carefully attending to their emotions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)463-478
Number of pages16
JournalPsychotherapy Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, © 2017 Society for Psychotherapy Research.


  • emotion regulation
  • emotional experience
  • patterns
  • psychodynamic psychotherapy


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