Understanding and measuring complex feeling states: Investigating the relationship between empathy and Psychodynamic Interpersonal Therapy.

  • Hannah Marsden

Student thesis: Doctor of Clinical Psychology


This thesis aims to understand complex feeling states and how they can be measured, with a particular focus on the Psychodynamic Interpersonal Therapy (PIT) and empathy literature. The thesis consists of three separate papers. In paper one, we present a narrative review with the aim of examining the relationship between empathy and PIT. First we review the current state of the empathy literature. This shows the challenges in using the concept of empathy, and the paucity of its links with the psychotherapy literature. Second we explore the nature of empathy within the PIT literature and reflect on its role within PIT's core stance and skills. We conclude by bringing these together to describe the reciprocal role between empathic communication and PIT, which presents implications for therapy, supervision and training. Paper two follows the development of a measure to capture someone's ability to understand complex feeling states in others. Our aim was to create a tool to measure two primary PIT skills: someone's ability to recognise feeling states in others (pick up cues) and their ability to frame these using understanding hypotheses. Furthermore, the study aimed to assess the tool's reliability and validity. The measure we developed, called the Psychodynamic Interpersonal Attunement measure (PIA), consisted of two forms containing videos of people talking about their experience of a feeling. The development process used a multi-stage approach to item generation, validation and reduction. The measure was then tested using a non-clinical sample. Results from a preliminary evaluation were mixed: there was low internal consistency, but several significant correlations were found within the PIA, and also between the PIA and an empathy measure. Preliminary findings show that the PIA has potential as a measure of PIT skills, however, requires further exploration. We present recommendations of further developments to the PIA to improve its psychometric properties. Paper three describes a critical analysis and evaluation of my research journey. It includes an exploration of my decisions within the planning, design and execution phases of the projects, the challenges I faced, and the overall strengths and limitations of each part. To conclude, I share my personal reflections.
Date of Award31 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorElspeth Guthrie (Supervisor) & Richard Brown (Supervisor)

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