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Alexithymia and emotional processing: a longitudinal mixed methods research

Ana Nunes da Silva, António Branco Vasco, Jeanne C. Watson
  • António Branco Vasco
    Faculty of Psychology, University of Lisbon, Portugal
  • Jeanne C. Watson
    Ontario Institute for Studies in Education University of Toronto, Canada

Abstract

Alexithymia has been associated with poor outcomes in psychotherapy. This association has been attributed to a difficulty in patients processing emotions and engaging in emotional tasks. The possibility of alexithymia being modified by psychotherapy remains a topic of great debate but with little empirical research. In this study a mixed methods longitudinal design was used to better understand alexithymia, emotional processing and change process in psychotherapy. Twelve clients, five with alexithymia, were studied considering the development of alexithymia, emotional awareness, differentiation, regulation and severity of symptoms. The reliable change index was used to interpret the evolution of those emotional variables' scores for each case and thematic analysis was used to analyze individual interviews. Thematic analysis generated several themes, organized in two broad domains: i) perception of emotions and ii) description of change. The three alexithymic patients that changed in alexithymia also changed in at least one of the emotional variables – lack of emotional awareness, emotion differentiation or emotion regulation. Generally, alexithymic patients were able to accomplish change in psychotherapy although they had a tendency to focus on physical complaints, describe changes in a more rational rather than emotional way and present vaguer descriptions of their problems. These results point that alexithymia may change through therapy and reinforces that those changes are associated with improved emotional processing.

Keywords

Alexithymia; Emotional awareness; Emotional differentiation; Emotional regulation; Psychotherapy.

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Submitted: 2017-11-07 17:38:06
Published: 2018-04-12 10:48:42
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Copyright (c) 2018 Ana Nunes da Silva, António Branco Vasco, Jeanne C. Watson

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