ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2020, Vol. 52 ›› Issue (2): 197-206.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2020.00197

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Interpersonal complementarity in counseling and its relationship with working alliance and therapeutic outcomes

NI Cong1,2,ZHU Xu2(),JIANG Guangrong2,LIN Xiubin2,YU Lixia3,LIANG Huanping4   

  1. 1 Mental Health Education Center, Hubei University of Economics, Wuhan, 430205, China
    2 School of Psychology, Central China Normal University, Key Laboratory of Human Development and Mental Health of Hubei Province, Key Laboratory of Adolescent Cyberpsychology and Behavior (CCNU), Ministry of Education, Wuhan, 430079, China
    3 Mental Health Education Center, Central China Normal University, Wuhan, 430079, China
    4 The Hospital of Central China Normal University, Wuhan, 430079, China;
  • Received:2019-02-01 Published:2020-02-25 Online:2019-12-24
  • Contact: Xu ZHU


Leary’s circumplex model of interpersonal behavior categorizes the manifestation of personality in interpersonal interactions into two dimensions: affiliation (i.e., hostile-friendly) and control (i.e., dominant-submissive). Interpersonal complementarity refers to mutually adjusted and complementary behaviors along the affiliation and control dimensions during dyadic interactions, such that greater dominance in one partner invites greater submissiveness in the other (i.e., reciprocity) and greater friendliness invites greater friendliness (i.e., correspondence). The first aim of the study was to develop an assessment manual to reliably measure interpersonal complementarity using the computer joystick method. Using this innovative measurement method, the study tested the high-low-high pattern of interpersonal complementarity in early, middle and late stages of therapy sessions, and examined the relationships between interpersonal complementarity and therapists’ experience, working alliance, session depth and therapeutic outcomes.

Segments of early (first session), middle (sessions between first and last sessions), and late (last session) stages of session videos were selected from the “Directiveness Research” database from a university counseling center in central region of China. 48 selected segments were from 16 clients (5 male and 11 female) working with 13 therapists (3 male and 10 female) for 4 to 8 sessions (M = 5.8). Using the Interpersonal Complementarity Evaluation Manual of Counseling, two well-trained raters performed joystick assessments of interpersonal complementarity. In addition, therapists and clients filled out WAI-SR and SEQ after each session, and clients filled out OQ-45 at the start of treatment and one week after termination.

The results showed that: (1) Therapists’ experience and counseling stage had an interactive effect on interpersonal complementarity. Specifically, experienced therapists (more than 3 years of experience) showed higher correspondence of affiliation in the early stage than that in the middle and late stages, and higher complementarity of dominance in the late stage than that in the early and middle stages. In contrast, novice therapists (less than 3 years of experience) showed no significant change in interpersonal complementarity over the three stages; (2) In the middle stage, the affiliation correspondence negatively predicted working alliance and interpersonal complementarity negatively predicted session depth; (3) The cases with a high-low-high pattern of affiliation correspondence tended to have better therapeutic outcomes.

Results provided partial support for the three-stage high-low-high model of interpersonal complementarity in psychotherapy. Findings help shed light on the underlying mechanism of the three-stage model of interpersonal complementarity, because lower interpersonal complementarity uniquely predicted greater working alliance and session depth in the middle stage of therapy.

Key words: interpersonal complementarity, working alliance, therapeutic outcomes, computer joystick

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