Changes in natural language use as an indicator of psychotherapeutic change in personality disorders

A.R. Arntz*, L.D. Hawke, L.L.M. Bamelis, P. Spinhoven, M.L. Molendijk

*Corresponding author for this work

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Word use has been shown to reflect various psychological processes and psychological change. This study examines the self-view in personality disorders (PDs) and its change over the course of therapy using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count analysis procedure. A sample of 299 participants with PDs and 108 community control participants wrote short essays about their lives. Patients repeated the assignment three times over two years and completed assessments of PD-pathology, general psychopathology, PD-beliefs, and quality of life. Results show that as hypothesized the use of words in the 1st Person Singular Pronouns, Negative Emotion, Causation, Past and Future Tense Verbs categories significantly declines over the course of treatment, while the use of Present Tense Verbs and Positive Emotion increases. These categories tend to distinguish patients from non-patients prior to treatment. We also found 12 additional word categories changing over time, including Word Count and Negations. Change in word use statistically predicts better treatment outcome on all outcome measures (p < .001). Reductions in the use of Negative Emotion Words and Negations are the strongest predictors of outcome. The non-hypothesized role of Negations was explored and seemed to reflect that PD-patients miss a lot in their lives. Reduction of what they miss seems central to recovery. This issue seems relatively neglected in theoretical and treatment models of PDs. An increased focus on what patients miss in their lives might improve our understanding and treatment of PDs. In sum, Negative Emotion and Negation word categories appear to reflect key treatment targets. Crown Copyright (C) 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-202
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012

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