Professor Adele Hayes

The Think-Tank seminar series

A Method for Studying Change in Psychotherapy from a Dynamical Systems Perspective: Emotional Processing, Associative Networks, and State Space Grids


Professor Adele Hayes, Department of Psychology, University of Delaware, USA

Date and time

12:00 - 1:00pm, 1 February 2013


Emotional processing has been hypothesized to be a key predictor of therapeutic change across theoretical orientations. However, research on processing has not kept pace with theoretical developments that capture its dynamic nature and its associations with change in pathological and more adaptive networks over time. Methods for studying the breadth, strength, and stability of associative networks will be described and applied to the study of emotional processing in an exposure-based therapy for depression. This approach is framed in the context of dynamical systems theory from other sciences, which has much to offer psychotherapy researchers. Participants were 43 patients diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder who completed an open trial of this treatment. Raters coded weekly patient narratives using a coding system designed to operationalize emotional processing and the cognitive, affective, and behavioral components of depressive and positive network variables. Results suggest that more processing during the exposure phase of therapy was associated with more network destabilization, more positive network activation in the final phase of treatment, and with lower depression scores at the three month follow-up.  These findings are consistent with recent updates of emotional processing theories and with principles from dynamical systems theory.