Research: Conversation Analysis in Psychotherapy

Conversation analysis is a research method used to study the phenomena that arises within the psychotherapeutic session. Analysis of the conversation is fundamental to change processes psychotherapeutic sessions, since most psychotherapy work is centered around patient-therapist dialogue, as founded on the words, “talking cure” coined by Anna O. the first patient whose therapy sessions were written in-depth by Freud.

“Conversation analysis has a unique place in the cluster of methods generally considered qualitative (Madill and Gough 2008 ). It is avowedly empirical and has a claim to being relatively atheoretical…

The argument is that conversation analysis

  • avoids use of pre-conceived theories,
  • non-interpretive
  • is primarily inductive and data driven.
  • foundational (assumes that objective principles can be established)
  • progressive (builds a corpus of knowledge)
  • no attempt is made to categorize the content of the data with a view to theorizing how social processes or individual experiences are to be understood.
  • is not concerned with how sociocultural meanings
  • uses rigorous empirical observations
  • applies method that will reveal the (normative) rules of conversational exchange

Conversational analysis of psychotherapeutic dialogue begins with transcription of actual recordings of the therapeutic session.  Jeffersonian transcription conventions have been designed for this (see ) and are under constant development.

Since the work is intensively micro-analytically focused, small areas (phenomena) of interest are identified and studied.

Typically, the sequence of analysis would entail:

  1. identification of a conversation phenomenon of interest,
  2. the collection of a series of instances of that phenomenon from available conversational data,
  3. cross-comparison of these instances in order to determine the common practices through which the phenomenon is regulated (informed by current knowledge regarding interactional exchange),
  4. the presentation of a carefully evidenced and argued case for the pattern discovered using detailed analysis of examples of real conversational data.

Aspects of conversation that are of Interest

There are five main features of talk-in-interaction of interest in conversation analysis:

  1. turn-taking,
  2. sequence organization,
  3. repair,
  4. word selection, and
  5. action formation.



Madill, A. (2015). Conversation analysis and psychotherapy process research. In Psychotherapy Research (pp. 501-515). Springer Vienna.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *