Relation of Nonverbal Behavior to Client Reactions Term Paper

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Psychology of Nonverbal Behavior and Therapy Client Reactions

For therapists, developing a clear sense of their clients' reactions to therapy, whether positive or negative, is a crucial component in improving the quality of the therapy provided. One of the more significant problems facing therapists who are interested in the evaluation of their own methods is that many clients are reluctant to share negative feelings about their therapy experiences (Hill and Stephany, 1990). There can be a variety of reasons for this, but the unfortunate reality is that over the long run this will result in the perpetuation of bad therapeutic methods that are ineffective at actually helping people with their problems. The following research study considers this to be a significant problem in modern counseling. After a review of some existing literature on the subject, the researchers had the thought that if clients will not willingly share negative feelings about their therapy experiences, then maybe there exist other communication mediums through which these negative feelings are being transmitted.

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In particular, there existed the possibility that therapists could exploit nonverbal communication cues -- such as hesitations in speech or head movements -- to make determinations regarding the mental and emotional states of the client. The following review of that research considers the researchers overall research thesis, their methods, the statistical analyses employed, and the end results. Some problems with the details of the research will also be presented, as well as the usefulness of this study for future research and for existing therapists interested in improving their practice.

Term Paper on Relation of Nonverbal Behavior to Client Reactions Assignment

Hill and Stephany (1990) plainly outline the purpose of their study, titled "relation of Nonverbal Behavior to Client Reactions." Rather, they have two interrelated purposes that center on the matter of nonverbal cues employed by therapy clients. The first purpose is to determine how client nonverbal behavior corresponds to the use of nonverbal behaviors as reported by the clients themselves. The second purpose, similarly, seeks to determine how the perception of those nonverbal cues by therapists corresponds with the actual incidence and use of nonverbal cues by the clients.

The reason that the researchers divided the purpose of the study in this way is actually rather clever. First of all, there needs to be some objective judge of what constitutes a nonverbal cue and whether or not that cue is occurring in a meaningful way. For this purpose, the sessions were recorded and independently evaluated. Discussing the use of nonverbal cues with the clients and then comparing those discussions with the objective reports should provide some indication as to which nonverbal cues actually possessed substantive meaning and which were simply random movements without emotional depth. On top of this, the research team decided to contrast both the objective findings and the reports by the clients with the use of nonverbal cues as perceived by the therapists. After all, if the therapists are unable to detect the incidence or potential significance of different nonverbal cues, the usefulness of those cues in a therapy setting will be compromised. By splitting the research project in this way, the researchers were able to most effectively isolate potential contamination of the research and analysis of the nonverbal cues employed by the clients during the recorded sessions.

The specific methodology employed by the researchers to achieve this ideal end is useful to understand. Of particular concern for the researchers was the protection of the confidentiality of the sessions, which would be real sessions between volunteer therapists and volunteer patients (Hill and Stephany, 1990). To a certain degree, this desire to preserve the integrity of the sessions is admirable and necessary in this situation. After all, the behavior of both the clients and the therapists could change significantly if they are both aware that a recorded copy of the session will be passed around amongst a group of researchers. Additionally, discretion is important in any therapy session to protect the emotional confidence of the patient. Nonetheless, a close examination of the methodology of the research study reveals that this focus on confidentiality was pursued almost to a fault, coming quite close to the point that it could have negatively affected the ability of the objective judges to identify and evaluate the incidence of nonverbal communication during the sessions.

Regardless of this potential limitation, the research study, while limited in scope, was simply and rigorously constructed. One session was used from sixteen different therapists. The therapists used were half male and half female, half of them having years of experience while the other half were advanced graduate students. The age range for all of the therapists was between twenty-four and forty-six. As with the therapists, there were sixteen individual clients who volunteered to participate in the study. Half of the client participants were men, while the other half were women. All of the clients were gleaned from upper level psychology classes at the university at which the research study was conducted. Each of the participating clients had to meet certain criteria, such as high grade point averages, in order to participate in the study. Arguably, this prescription may have protected the researchers from purposefully manipulated behaviors, but simultaneously limited the scope of the study to a very narrow group.

In addition to the therapists and the clients, the researchers enlisted the services of thirteen judges, eight women and five men, from upper level psychology courses who would identify incidences of nonverbal cues in the recorded therapy sessions. None of the judges were aware of the research thesis so as not to affect their evaluations. All of them, however, were trained significantly to be able to spot and identify certain nonverbal behaviors with at least 80% consistency between the judges. Four judges were trained on each behavior type -- except for speech hesitations, which only received two for confidentiality's sake -- with each judge asked to look for two different kinds of behaviors. The researchers decided ahead of time to focus on nine different types of nonverbal behaviors: speech hesitations, vertical head movements, horizontal head movements, arm movements, leg movements, shifts in posture, adaptor (such as biting lips or playing with hair), illustrators (such as hand movements associated with speech), and smiles (Hill and Stephany, 1990).

In a further effort to protect confidentiality, the audio and video components of each recorded session were separated so that only the two judges trained in speech hesitations would actually listen to the content of the therapy sessions. The other judges, instead, would only be given the video portions to scrutinize in order to limit the exposure that any client would receive from the research (Hill and Stephany, 1990). As already mentioned, the fixation these researchers had on protecting anonymity within the context of this research is admirable to the extent that it can protect these individuals from exposing their private therapy sessions to the public. The knowledge that the privacy would not be protected might have affected nonverbal behavior and limited the effectiveness of the study. Nonetheless, the decision to isolate the audio and video portions of the recorded sessions may have actually had an adverse effect on the ability of the judges to detect significant nonverbal information. While this is perhaps not a significant risk, it is nonetheless a potential problem that could creep into future research studies on the subject if this methodology is replicated exactly. With a larger sample size, more significant difficulties in evaluation could utterly nullify the results of research into nonverbal cues in a therapy setting.

The statistical methods that the researchers employed were largely useful, though even they openly admitted that the kappa test was probably not significant to the study. Much more important was the percentage of agreement between the judges who evaluated each behavior (Hill and Stephany, 1990). This statistic was important because it provided the basis for judging whether or not the behaviors identified by the judges could be used as the baseline for further analysis. Since the percentage of agreements were generally all in the high 80th and 90th percentiles, we can conclude that the statistic support at least the identification of nonverbal behaviors within the context of these therapy sessions. Carefully itemizing their analysis of this baseline with the self-report data from the client and the therapists, the researchers complied their statistical findings into two straightforward tables that present the significance of each of the nonverbal cues analyzed, fleshing out whether or not there was any significance associated with the use of these cues.

Interestingly, most of the nonverbal cues that the researchers were looking for turned out to be non-important, or rather non-significant. The only significant associations that could be found were for horizontal head movements, vertical head movements, and speech hesitations. The other nonverbal cues had no significance attached to them, once researchers compared the findings of the judges with the data from both the clients and the therapists (Hill and Stephany, 1990). This is an important finding because it help the researchers determine whether or not any of the nonverbal… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Relation of Nonverbal Behavior to Client Reactions" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Relation of Nonverbal Behavior to Client Reactions.  (2007, May 3).  Retrieved May 25, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Relation of Nonverbal Behavior to Client Reactions."  3 May 2007.  Web.  25 May 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Relation of Nonverbal Behavior to Client Reactions."  May 3, 2007.  Accessed May 25, 2020.