Research Axis 1: Psychotherapy process research

The first objective is to better understand the processes of change. Psychotherapy process refers to actions, experience, and relatedness of patient and therapist in therapy sessions (e.g., interpretations) that lead to intermediate changes in the patient (e.g., insight) and ultimately to treatment outcome. Each psychotherapeutic orientation has developed specific models of the therapy process, based on their distinct theoretical models and treatment approach. This type of research is crucial for refining existing treatment models and providing a better understanding of the nature of change in psychotherapy.

Alliance ruptures in couple therapy

Morgane Xhonneux (2019-2023, co-promotion E. Zech and M. Géonet) is conducting a project on therapeutic alliance ruptures within couple therapy. There is no doubt that the alliance plays a major role in the effectiveness of therapies, and it is built and nourished by three therapeutic attitudes: congruence, unconditional positive regard UPR) and empathy. Alliance has been largely conceptualized in individual therapies while a small number of studies have focused on the characteristics of alliance within couple therapy. However, this is a therapeutic setting where alliance ruptures can be particularly frequent. We postulate that increasing therapist congruence and UPR towards both clients would help repair alliance ruptures and decrease drop out from couple therapy.

Single case studies in psychotherapy

Single Case Archive (2013-…; Jochem Willemsen) is a international collaborative project with three aims: 1) making case studies more easily accessible for research, clinical and teaching purposes, 2) facilitating meta-studies and reviews of case studies, and 3) stimulating methodological developments in the field of case study research. Case studies are an essential complement to other types of research in the field of psychotherapy research and they help to bridge the gap between research and practice. One of the major achievements of this project is the creation of an online database of clinical, systematic, and experimental single case studies from all psychotherapeutic orientations (www.singlecasearchive.com). This resource was created in 2013 by researchers from Ghent University and the University of Essex.

Research axis 2: Psychotherapist training and professional development

The second objective is to empirically study the effects of psychotherapy training. Somewhat surprisingly, studies of expertise and therapist development have failed to find strong associations between clinical training or experience and therapist performance. Existing approaches to therapist training often lack empirical underpinning and crucial questions remain unanswered: how best to train core skills in therapist, how to assure continued good performance, what is the role of supervision and personal therapy in professional development? The Psychological Sciences Research Institute (IPSY) has a tradition of developing training approaches for specific therapist skills such as helping skills (Jaeken et al., 2017), therapeutic attitudes and personality development (Brison et al., 2015) and case conceptualization (Philippot et al., 2019). Prof Emmanuelle Zech has developed an online training resource for the development of helping skills. Moreover, a unique infrastructure for training of and research into relational skills (labo des compétences relationnelles) has become available recently at IPSY.

Psychoanalytic clinical reasoning

Niccolò Polipo (2020-2024; supervised by Jochem Willemsen) is conducting a project on the use of psychoanalytic clinical reasoning for the purposes of case conceptualization and reflective practice. Using qualitative research methods, the research team has developed an empirically grounded model of the conceptual and reflective skills that analysts use in everyday practice in order to move from A (the raw clinical material) to B (an improved understanding of the clinical case at hand). Using quantitative research methods, the team is going to test whether a teaching module based on the model can enhance psychoanalytic clinical reasoning skills in trainee or practicing therapists through didactic teaching methods and distance learning. The ultimate aim is to explore whether a deliberate practice in psychoanalytic clinical reasoning skills can improve the training and continuing professional development of future generations of mental health professionals.

Personal and professional development of psychotherapists

Hubert de Condé (2020-2026; co-supervised by Emmanuelle Zech and Jochem Willemsen) will explore the integration of personal and professional experiences in therapists and how this integration leads to changes in profession practices. In particular, the project aims to investigate a model regarding the personal and professional development of the person-of-the-therapist. In this circular and reflective model, it is assumed that the personal and professional development is driven by significant events (like personal and professional experiences), which lead to the development of reflexivity. In turn, reflexivity gives rise to the development of a Way of Being (both professional / therapeutic and personal), which can have several outcomes (positive or negative). This model will be investigated through several cross-sectional and longitudinal qualitative studies with trainees and qualified psychotherapists from different theoretical orientations.