Media portrayal of psychotherapists, be it Paul in HBO’s In Treatment or Dr. Melfi in The Sopranos, are not very positive and often depict psychotherapists as having very tumultuous lives. Prior research suggests that these portrayals of practicing therapists sometimes keep patients from seeking psychotherapy. New research led by Jan Pletzer from the VU University Amsterdam, however, suggests that practicing psychotherapists may actually be more emotionally healthy than other professionals. Specifically, they might be better able to manage their own negative emotions. In their study, which has also been covered by Time, Pletzer had both therapists and other non-therapy professionals view pictures that have been known to elicit negative emotions. His team wanted to explore which group reacted more negatively to the pictures and how they were able to manage these emotions. Because the work of therapists rely on empathy, Pletzer and his colleagues hypothesized that therapists should be just as able as other professionals to experience negative emotions but that they should be better able to regulate their emotional reactions. What they found was that psychotherapists had the same levels of emotional reactions to the unpleasant pictures but that they were better able to regulate these reactions either via distraction or by engaging cognitive strategies. The study authors suggested that “more effective emotion regulation make them well prepared to provide effective help to patients and safeguard their own well-being” when dealing with emotional events from patients’ lives. “It’s something [psychotherapists] need for that job and something that makes them be effective in what they do” says study author Jan Pletzer.
Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR)
Marna S. Barrett, Ph.D.
Mood & Anxiety Disorders Treatment Research Unit
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine
3535 Market St., Suite 670
Philadelphia, PA 19104