Clients’ emotional instability and therapists’ inferential flexibility predict therapists’ session-by-session empathic accuracy.

Clients’ emotions often serve as a major focus for therapists’ attention. Interestingly, little is known about the factors that facilitate or hinder therapists’ accurate assessment of these emotions. We hypothesized that therapists’ accuracy would be negatively tied to their clients’ emotional fluctuation (i.e., instability) and positively tied to the therapists’ own inferential fluctuation (i.e., flexibility) as well as to the clients’ emotional intensity. Clients (N = 98/N = 76) received weekly psychodynamic psychotherapy at a university-based clinic. Following each session, clients reported their within-session emotions, and therapists provided their own assessment of their clients’ emotions. As expected, when clients’ emotions were more unstable, therapists were less accurate in tracking these emotions. Additionally, when therapists’ assessments of their clients’ emotions were more flexible, they were more accurate in tracking them. Our results help identify factors that predict accurate emotion perception within psychotherapy and may translate into actionable ideas for enhancing this accuracy. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)