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Alexithymia in a psychiatric population: stability and relationship with therapeutic outcome

The association between the Alexithymia construct and numerous psychopathologies is well documented. Many researchers consider Alexithymia as a stable personality trait that predisposes individuals to psychiatric illness. Some have further argued that the cognitive emotion-processing deficit characterising the construct is detrimental for therapeutic success. However, despite extensive research, the empirical evidence supporting these ideas is in conflict, with many researchers failing to investigate different types of construct stability or to compare different types of therapeutic intervention. A further complication for the understanding of Alexithymia and its association with psychiatric illness is the issue of prevalence: estimates are highly variable across studies. Less tentative estimates need to be established, particularly for general psychiatric populations, so that the extent of research implications can be contextualised.

The proposed quantitative research aims to address these limitations by conducting three studies. Study one will establish prevalence rates of Alexithymia in an Australian psychiatric sample with mixed diagnoses and compare this to rates in an Australian community sample. Alexithymia will be assessed using the Toronto Alexithymia Scale 20-item version (TAS-20), which quantifies Alexithymia as a continuous and categorical variable. An ANOVA and a chi-square analysis (with Alexithymia categories low, moderate, and high) will be conducted. Study two will investigate whether Alexithymia influences therapeutic outcome for psychiatric participants who are engaged in one of five group psychotherapy conditions. Two-way mixed ANOVA calculations will be used. Study three will examine the stability of Alexithymia, controlling for psychological distress, and will involve correlations over time. Approximately 150 psychiatric participants will be recruited from an outpatient mental health facility and 200 participants from the general community population. It is anticipated that Alexithymia will be more prevalent in the psychiatric sample than in the community sample; high baseline Alexithymia will impede therapeutic success; and Alexithymia will be relatively stable across treatment. Findings of this research will help to clarify the nature and extent of Alexithymia, provide guidance for the general management of psychopathology, and inform the development of psychotherapeutic interventions to treat Alexithymia.

Funding agency



February 2014


Lauren McGillivray (PhD)
Dr Rodrigo Becerra
Dr Craig Harms

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