What can be learned from couple research: Examining emotional co-regulation processes in face-to-face interactions

Peter Hilpert, Timothy R. Brick, Christoph Flückiger, Matthew J. Vowels, Eva Ceulemans, Peter Kuppens, Laura Sels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


A crucial component of successful counseling and psychotherapy is the dyadic emotion co-regulation process between patient and therapist that unfolds moment to moment during therapy sessions. The major reason for the disappointing progress in understanding this process is the lack of appropriate methods to assess subjectively experienced emotions continuously during therapy sessions without disturbing the natural flow of the interaction. The resulting inability has forced the field to focus on patients' overall emotion ratings at the end of each session with limited predictive value of the dyadic interplay between patient and therapist's emotional states within each session. The current tutorial demonstrates how couple research-confronted with a comparable problem-has overcome this issue by (i) developing a videobased retrospective self-report assessment method for individuals' continuous state emotions without undermining the dyadic interaction and (ii) using a validated statistical tool to analyze the dynamical process during a dyadic interaction. We show how to assess emotion data continuously, and how to unravel self-regulation and co-regulation processes using a Latent Differential Equation Modeling approach. Finally, we discuss how this approach can be applied in counseling psychology and psychotherapy to test basic theoretical assumptions about the co-creation of emotions despite the conceptual differences between couple dyads and therapist-patient dyads. The present method aims to inspire future research activities examining systematic real-time processes between patients and therapists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)475-487
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Counseling Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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