The effect of client affective expression and counselor anxiety upon empathic responsiveness in a counseling interview



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Counselors' empathic responsiveness to clients' self disclosures has long been regarded as an integral component of successful counseling interviews. Through this process, a client comes to feel accepted, understood, and supported by another individual. A host of factors potentially interfere with this process. One such potential deterrent to a counselor's ability to respond empathically is anxiety experienced by the counselor. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of hostile versus friendly client demeanor upon counselors' anxiety levels and empathic responsiveness within a counseling interview. Subjects participating in this study were twenty-four female graduate counseling majors. The subjects each conducted a simulated counseling interview with a confederate role playing a client, trained to present a conventional counseling concern and display either a hostile or friendly affect. Counselor trainees anxiety was assessed by self report (State- Trait Anxiety Inventory) and physiological (EMG recordings) measures both in anticipation of and during a counseling interview. Experimental and control group differences in anxiety levels and empathic responsiveness were compared. Audiotaped segments of the interview were rated for level of empathy by raters trained in the use of Carkhuff's Empathy Scale. Results indicated that the counselors did experience higher levels of both State anxiety and EMG activity during the interview than at rest. The counselors did not however, experience increased EMG activity in response to hostile client affect. What did seem to occur in general was that subjects experienced peak EMG activity early in the interview, and then gradually tapered off as the interview progressed, suggesting an initial "ceiling effect". Those subjects experiencing hostile client affect however, did tend to report higher levels of state anxiety following the interview. Thus, like some previous studies, the physiological and selfreport correlates of anxiety in this investigation behaved somewhat independently. The experience of counselor-directed client hostility did not significantly impact the counselors' ability to respond empathically. Directions for future research are discussed.



Counseling, Affect (Psychology), Empathy, Anxiety