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The processes underlying psychotherapeutic change have increasingly been emphasized in both research and clinical practice. Nonlinear dynamical systems theory (NDS) offers a transdisciplinary scientific approach to the study of these processes. This paper introduces the NDS concept of "emotional inertia", the property of human emotion by which it retains its course so long as it is not acted upon by an external force, as a key to understanding moment-by-moment and also longer-term change processes within psychotherapy. A testable mathematical model of emotional inertia is presented that represents specific impacts of psychotherapeutic processes on emotional dynamics over time. Emotional trajectories in phase space, treatment energy, and the interaction between them are the essential elements of the model, and a detailed explanation is provided. Procedures for testing this model are described, such as by tracking the movement of emotion in phase space within and across therapy sessions, along with clinical implications of the model, which can potentially help to make more clear the complementary roles of therapeutic force, timing, and leverage.


This article was originally published in Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, volume 13, issue 2, in 2014. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijchp.2014.03.001


Asociacion Espanola de Psicologia Conductual. Published by Elsevier Espana, S.L.

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