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TMatch: Client/Therapist Matching Based on

Client Preference for Therapist Empathy Style

Short Restatement of Matching Recommendations

This matching criteria is based on a study by Bachelor (1998), which found four different styles of empathy preferred by clients for their therapists, named Cognitive, Affective, Sharing, and Nurturant. Cognitive empathy is the client's perception that the therapist understands the client's thoughts, and experiences. Affective empathy is the client's perception that the therapist feels the same emotions that the client is feeling. Sharing empathy occurs when the therapist discloses to the client that the therapist has experienced a similar situation or feeling. Nurturant empathy is the client's perception that the therapist is supportive and attentive, and is providing security for the client. For TMatch, clients were matched to therapists based on how much their preferences matched therapists self-ratings on these empathy styles.

Client Assessments

Clients were shown four boxes containing short descriptions of these empathy styles, and asked to put these in order of preference, and also to rate how often they would like each type in their therapy.

Therapist Assessments

Therapists were asked to order the same descriptions as to their relative emphasis in their therapy, and also asked to rate each of them as to how often they used it.

Future Use of Empathy Styles for Matching

Results of Study

The study of the first version of TMatch showed that this system of matching did not work the way it was done. Almost all therapists answered their questionnaire that they use Cognitive and Nurturant empathy all the time, and hardly ever use Affective or Sharing empathy. Almost all clients indicated that they preferred the same two styles. Thus, according to this assessments, all clients were well matched with all therapists on this critierion.

The Next Step for Matching Based on Empathy Style

From personal experience, I believe this area has a rich potential for matching. The methods of assessment were for people to assess themselves based on narrative descriptions. One problem may be that the four narrative descriptions in the questionnaires had either strong positive or negative connotations, which led to everyone choosing the two with the most positive connotations. Another problem may be that people cannot easily identify empathy styles by short narrative descriptions. In Bachelor's study, the styles were identified through statements that made people comfortable or uncomfortable. Using a system like this would be much more difficult and take more room in the questionnaires, but would be worth trying. This is an area that would require a lot more study to get to the level of being useful for matching. However, because empathy is so important in therapy, this study would be well worth doing, either by myself or (hopefully) by other researchers. I have tried to get in touch with Dr. Bachelor to see if she has any more information about her orginal study, but she has retired without leaving a forwarding address, and I haven't been able to find her. Maybe she will read this web page, and be interested enough in my work to get in touch with me. If anyone else reading this is doing work on empathy styles that might be useful for matching, please get in touch with me. Email Kenneth Frankel, Ph.D.

For more information, or to give feedback, email Kenneth Frankel, Ph.D.


Bachelor, A. (1988). How clients perceive therapist empathy: A content analysis of "received" empathy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 25, 227-240.