What Does Therapist Presence Look Like in the Therapeutic Encounter? A Rational-Empirical Study of the Verbal and Non-Verbal Behavioural Markers of Presence
Colosimo, Kenneth Andrew
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Humanistic approaches to psychotherapy recognize therapeutic presence as necessary to sharpening one’s attunement to ongoing dynamics of intra and interpersonal processes, promoting empathy, and developing a strong working alliance. Despite its purported value, however, little empirical research has explored the nature of presence in the psychotherapeutic encounter. Following a task analytic methodology, the current study used both rational and empirical strategies to investigate how highly present therapists manifest presence behaviourally. Results from the present study show that therapist presence is linked to a constellation of verbal and non-verbal markers that reflect four modes of expression, which were named ‘here’, ‘now’, ‘open’, and ‘communion’. The final model included prominent behaviours such as poised body posture, unwavering eye gaze, responsive nodding and facial expressiveness, and vitality in face, body, and vocal tone. Implications for the development of an observational measure are discussed, along with limitations and suggestions for future research.