A double-blind study of empathic support and expectation as mechanisms of symptom change

J.G. Thomas, P.B. Sharp, M.A. Niznikiewicz, W. Heller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: A novel brief intervention was used to investigate how empathic support and expectation can induce changes in mood, anxiety, and perceived stress. Method: Seventy-six undergraduates with high negative affect were assigned to three conditions of a program involving tasks with no known therapeutic benefit. In Group 1: Expectation Only, participants were given a deceptive description of the benefits of the program to quantify the magnitude of symptom change due to expectation alone. In Group 2: Empathic Support + Expectation, participants were also instructed to write about past and current sources of distress and provided with supportive notes each week to quantify the role of empathic support plus expectation. In Group 3: Control, participants were told they were “norming” the instruments. Results: Participants in Groups 1 and 2 demonstrated decreases in depression, anxiety, and rumination, with significant medium effect reductions found in the empathic support plus expectation condition. Conclusions: Evidence suggests that empathic support and expectation cause reduction of symptoms spanning depression and anxiety.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)128-138
Number of pages11
JournalPsychotherapy Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • empathy
  • expectations
  • mechanism of change
  • placebo
  • psychotherapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology


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