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Corrective Experiences in Psychotherapy
Project status: Completed
Faculty: Psychotherapy Science
Project leader: Dr. Kathrin Mörtl
Project runtime: 01.10.2011 - 31.12.2016
Research Focus:
  • Applied Psychotherapy Science Research
  • Research on the Psychotherapeutic Process
Project leader:

Dr. Kathrin Mörtl (

Project team:

Mag. Adriana Mackova; Mag. Himanshu Giri; Mag. Alla Kirsha; Mag. Nusa Tojnko 

Cooperation partners:

Prof. Lynne Angus (Toronto); Prof. Mike Constantino (Boston); Dr. Martin Kuska (Prag); Prof. Andres Roussos (Buenos Aires)

Project runtime:

01.10.2011 - 31.12.2016




The construct of corrective experience has a long history in psychotherapy (Alexander & French, 1946; Wallerstein, 1990). Although definitions vary among clinical theorists and across treatment orientations, all suggest a type of transformative experience or set of experiences for the psychotherapy patient. Despite a rich theoretical history, though, there is precious little empirical information on patients’ perceptions of what is therapeutically corrective, or transformative. Thus, the primary aim of this project is to investigate patients’ posttreatment accounts of corrective experiences in psychotherapy using a qualitative interview methodology.

The primary research questions include: (1) In reflecting back on the time since beginning, and ultimately completing, therapy, what do patients perceive as aspects of self, other, and/or relationships (cognitive, affective, or relational in nature) that get corrected? (2) In reflecting back on the same time frame, what do patients perceive as corrective experiences (i.e., instances in therapy, outside of therapy, or in interaction with others, including possibly the therapist) that fostered what was corrected? and (3) Are any perceptions moderated by type of therapy (as the naturalistic settings include multiple forms of treatment).

Collaborative Research
This project is a multi-site collaboration study involving three universities. Data collection and analysis has already started the University of Massachusetts (Mike Constantino, PH.D.), York University (Prof. Lynne Angus, Kathrin Moertl, PH.D.) and Columbia University (Prof. Barry Farber) in 2011. In 2013 the sites of Sigmund Freud University in Vienna and Paris joined the international multisite project (Kathrin Moertl, PH.D., Prof. Georges Elias Sarfati).

Patients and Settings Patients will be consenting adult outpatients (age 18 and over) who complete a course of naturalistically delivered psychotherapy at one of the five study sites (UMass, York University, Columbia University, SFU Vienna and Paris, Psychosocial Studies College, Prague). For the SFU sites, approximately 30 patients will be included in the present study (15 in Vienna, 15 in Paris). These patients will be treated at the outpatient clinic at SFU Vienna and Paris. These patients will be pooled with approximately 15 patients at UMass, 15 at York and 5 at Columbia to create a sample size of approximately 60 patients. This reflects a large sample for the intensive qualitative analyses that will be conducted, and it should safely allow for both saturation/stability of the emerging themes and the ability to compare findings across certain characteristics (e.g., treatment type).

Interview and Interviewers
Following their termination from treatment, patients will engage in a semi-structured interview that will assess patients’ reflections on broad and therapy specific corrective experiences. The interviews will be conducted in-person by trained graduate research assistants and will last approximately 45 min to 1 hr. Each interview will consist of the same set of open-ended questions with flexible follow-up prompts. The principal investigator at each site will train (post‐feedback) and supervise their local interviewers on the final protocol.

Data Analysis
Data will be analyzed based on audio recordings and transcripts of semi-structured post therapy interviews according to Grounded Theory Methodology (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). This method allows investigators to gain a rich understanding of patients’ first hand experiences of corrective experiences in psychotherapy – i.e., events or insights that patients believe have meaningfully changed their perspectives, feelings/cognitions, or relationships as a result of participating in treatment. Grounded Theory Methodology provides a set of systematic coding procedures (Mey & Mruck, 2007) that facilitates the development of tailor-made category system and conceptual model that are grounded in the data under investigation – e.g. patient corrective experiences – rather than applying a set of a priori established categories.

Output (in progress)
Academic theses:
Mackova, Adriana (2013): Client reports on corrective experiences in psychotherapy. A qualitative analysis (SFU Wien, Master thesis).
Giri, Himanshu (2015): Trainee Therapists‘ perceptions of Corrective Experiences in Individual Therapy. [Master thesis, SFU Vienna]