Linguistic Analysis of Patients with Mood and Anxiety Disorders During Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Patients’ words reflect their depression and anxiety

We express ourselves in words, intentionally as well as unintentionally, and verbal behavior is influenced by emotional, cognitive and personality factors. Furthermore, words are the essential medium of psychotherapy. Up till now, language has mainly been investigated qualitatively, however, progress in the field of computer technology now allows for the quantitative analysis of language.

The words patients used in original psychotherapeutic sessions were analyzed to answer the question whether the word usage of patients with depression and anxiety differ. The analyses were performed using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software.

Depressed patients’ cognitions differ from those of anxious patients, which was reflected in the usage of more words related to sadness and anxiety, respectively. The group of depressed patients showed a trend of a higher usage of first-person pronouns, pointing to enhanced self-focus.

The results confirm differences between the diagnoses of depression and anxiety. The emotional experiences associated with depression and anxiety differ, whereas enhanced self-focus seems to be a general factor in psychopathology and only slightly more pronounced in depression than anxiety. As further developments in the field of automatic speech recognition are expected, the quantitative analysis of speech samples is promising for diagnostics as well as therapeutic process research.

Read the full paper: Sonnenschein, A. R., Hofmann, S. G., Ziegelmayer, T., & Lutz, W. (in press). Linguistic analysis of patients with mood and anxiety disorders during cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. doi:10.1080/16506073.2017.1419505

Anke Sonnenschein


Photo by: Dan Kamminga

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