ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (9): 2078-2087.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.02078

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Interpersonal synchrony: A new perspective to elucidate the essence of working alliance in psychological counseling

DAI Xiaoyan, HU Yi, ZHANG Ya()   

  1. School of Psychology and Cognitive Science, East China Normal University; Shanghai Key Laboratory of Mental Health and Psychological Crisis Intervention, Shanghai 200062, China
  • Received:2021-10-20 Online:2022-09-15 Published:2022-07-21
  • Contact: ZHANG Ya


Interpersonal synchrony (IS) is the co-occurrence of speech features, behavior as well as physiological and neurological activities of two individuals or more. Over the past decade, ever-increasing advancement in the measurement methods of this phenomenon has prompted researchers to make a thorough investigation into almost every aspect of interpersonal interactions, an important research field of which is the therapeutic interaction between the counselor and the client in psychological counseling. Clinical psychologists attempt to reveal the interactional patterns between the psychological counselor and the client and to understand the mechanism underlying the successful establishment of working alliance from the perspective of interpersonal synchrony. This, to a large extent, has addressed the predicament in the study of alliance, that is, a lack of research on interactional features between the counselor-client dyad combined with outdated measurement methods solely dependent on self-report data. To elucidate the interactional features of alliance, researchers mainly focus on the relation between non-verbal synchrony, physiological synchrony as well as interpersonal brain synchrony and working alliance together with its influencing factors. They found that physiological synchrony between the psychological counselor and the client indicated more positive working alliance, and might serve as an objective measure of the counselor's degree of empathy; however, the bidirectional relationship between non-verbal synchrony and alliance and the likelihood of non-verbal synchrony acting as a supplementary form of assessment of alliance quality still require further investigation. Besides, interpersonal brain synchrony has the potential to be an additional neurological indicator of the successful formation of alliance. In terms of the mechanism underlying the successful establishment of alliance, extant theories, such as Shared Intentionality Theory, Polyvagal Theory, Social Psychological Theory, Resilience Model and so on, illuminate the rationale behind how interpersonal synchrony brings forth working alliance and even therapeutic effect. Besides, Oxytocin Synchrony Hypothesis focuses on the biological mechanism of the formation of alliance while Interpersonal Synchrony Model (In-Sync Model) combines different modes of interpersonal synchrony (i.e., non-verbal synchrony and interpersonal brain synchrony) and provides a more integrative theory to uncover the mechanism. Nevertheless, there are still some key issues yet to be addressed in this research field. First, whether interpersonal synchrony can act as an objective indicator of the successful formation of alliance requires further evidence. Additionally, while it is vital to differentiate between different components of alliance (i.e., trait-like component and state-like component) and different types of non-verbal synchrony (i.e., counselor-led synchrony and client-led synchrony), extant research seldom takes the dynamic nature of interpersonal synchrony into account and investigates its contribution to the state-like component of alliance. Furthermore, there still lack theories and empirical evidence devoted to integrating different modes of interpersonal synchrony to uncover the interactional features during the formation of alliance, with the majority of current theories only centered on a single mode of interpersonal synchrony; although the In-Sync Model tries to take both non-verbal synchrony and interpersonal brain synchrony into account, it lacks empirical validation and requires further refinements. Future researchers should integrate different types and modes of interpersonal synchrony when studying its relation with alliance and other influencing factors, pay more attention to the dynamics of interpersonal synchrony alongside the change of working alliance, develop more integrative theories to reveal the essence of working alliance, and, in clinical practice, promote the type of interaction in psychological counseling that features interpersonal synchrony between the psychological counselor and the client.

Key words: interpersonal synchrony, non-verbal synchrony, physiological synchrony, interpersonal brain synchrony, alliance

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