Investigating the Roles of Therapist Experiencing and Therapist Reflective Functioning in the Therapeutic Environment

  • Jacob Nacheman The New School for Social Research


This study evaluates several factors that may contribute to the creation of a therapeutic space in which a client feels supported in their growth. Experiencing, the ability to focus on the data of one’s experiential awareness, moves people to explore and address problems in their lives by encouraging the recognition of internal struggles. Reflective functioning, or mentalizing, is the level to which one is aware of one’s own internal states, and to which one can understand others in terms of mental states; the thoughts, intentions, feelings, and beliefs of self and other. Proposing the theory that experiencing and reflective functioning are important skills for therapists in the creation of a holding environment (in which patients can safely explore their internal conflicts) two hypotheses were tested: (1) Therapist Experiencing (EXP) scores will correlate with therapist Reflective Functioning (RF) scores, demonstrating that therapists who are skilled in experiencing will also be skilled in mentalizing, and (2) Therapists with higher-level EXP scores and RF scores will encourage growth toward better functioning, as displayed in outcome measures (Inventory of Interpersonal Problems; IIP, and Symptom Checklist; SCL). Results did not support these hypotheses; in fact, a negative correlation was shown between outcome measures and high EXP/RF, linking high therapist experiencing and reflective functioning to lower resolution of patient’s interpersonal problems and psychological symptoms.

Keywords: therapist experiencing, reflective functioning, therapeutic environment, therapist relational interview at midphase (TRI-M), psychotherapy outcomes

Author Biography

Jacob Nacheman, The New School for Social Research
New School for Social ResearchPhD Psychology (Student)MA Psychology (2016) University of RochesterMS Education & TESOL (2010)BS Brain and Cognitive Sciences (2009)


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