An integrative complexity analysis of cognitive behaviour therapy sessions for borderline personality disorder

Kate Davidson, Steven Livingstone, Katherine McArthur, Lindsay Dickson, Andrew Gumley

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19 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives. Integrative complexity (IC), a measure of cognitive style, was used to analyse discourse in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) sessions from patients with borderline personality disorder treated in the BOSCOT trial. It was predicted that patients' level of integrative complexity would be positively associated with the outcome of therapy. That is, an increase in patients' level of integrative complexity would be associated with good outcome. We also predicted that therapists would also show an increase in the level of complexity associated with their patient's increase in integrative complexity and good outcome.

Design. Ten patients who received CBT were categorized according to the outcome, good (N=5) and poor (N=5), using an algorithm that incorporated the number of suicide attempts and magnitude of change in severity of depression during therapy.

Method. For each patient and their therapist, an early and a late therapy session were transcribed and coded for integrative complexity (IC) (N=20 sessions transcribed). IC scores for patients and therapists were compared across early and late therapy sessions and for good and poor outcomes of therapy.

Results. The majority of discourse was at the lower levels of IC. Higher levels of IC at baseline were related to depression and anxiety. Good outcome was not associated with a change in the level of IC between earlier and later CBT sessions. Therapists, however, showed an increase in IC when patient's outcome was poor. In addition, an increase in patient's IC was associated with improvement in social functioning.

Conclusions. Therapists may overcompensate for patient's poor outcome by giving more complex explanations to patients. Higher complexity does not necessarily lead to better outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)513-523
Number of pages11
JournalPsychology and Psychotherapy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2007


  • integrative complexity
  • cognitive behaviour therapy
  • depression

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