Monash University

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Emotional Agency in Telecounselling: A Cognitive Model

posted on 2017-02-13, 01:44 authored by Ebrahim Oshni Alvandi
In recent years, evidence has shown that remote mental health care can be effective, and studies have demonstrated high levels of satisfaction with treatments provided via telecommunication technologies. However, the literature also suggests that remote psychotherapy (including telephone and internet-based technologies) should be assessed for the quantity and quality of information therapists’ have access to, and how this might influence the therapeutic process. The current study evaluated clinicians’ experiences of communication during technology-based sessions, and their awareness of their own and others’ emotions during computer-mediated psychotherapy.
   Experiment 1 evaluated participants’ ability to perceive emotional discourse and the mental health issues of clients via various technologies. The results showed that the perception of emotions did not differ significantly across text-based, audio-only, and video-audio modes of deliver. The findings, however, highlighted the difficulty people had with perceiving emotions when information was communicated via non-humans (i.e., robotic voice). In addition, text-based modes of delivery (e.g., text-messaging) were associated with problems identifying emotional content.
   Experiment 2 investigated the participants’ emotional awareness as well as their mood before and after the computer-mediated trials. Technology did not influence the participants’ mood, nor did it affect their ability to differentiate emotions. However, the findings demonstrated that a high positive mood prior to a therapeutic session influences a therapists’ awareness with regard to their own emotions.
   Experiment 3 assessed psychotherapists’ ability to be aware of, and make decisions regarding, clients’ emotions in simulated, video-based therapy sessions. Participants who scored higher on an emotional intelligence scale were better able to make diagnostic decisions.
   Overall, the research provides evidence in support of the view that tele-mental health care is a feasible alternative to face-to-face therapy. From a human-computer interaction (HCI) point of view, the experiments show that emotional information can be effectively transmitted between client and clinician via several, different forms of technology. From clinical perspective, the results suggest that a clinician’s ability to perceive emotional information and diagnose mental illness is not impeded by many telecommunication technologies. It is, however, suggested that clinicians would benefit from taking time to reflect on their own emotions prior to therapeutic sessions. This study also presents a conceptual model that shows the causal relationship among emotional intelligence, emotional perception, and diagnosis as the key abilities in therapeutic process. This model may be used as groundwork for future research in computer-mediated psychotherapy by investigating the therapeutic communication across virtual reality or automated psychotherapists.


Principal supervisor

George Van Doorn

Additional supervisor 1

Mark Symmons

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Social Sciences (Monash Australia)


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts