Publication details

Applying dynamic systems theory and complexity theory methods in psychotherapy research : A systematic literature review



Year of publication 2023
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Psychotherapy Research
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Social Studies

Keywords complex systems; nonlinearity; chaos theory; differential equations; psychotherapy; systematic review
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Description Objective Dynamic systems theory and complexity theory (DST/CT) is a framework explaining how complex systems change and adapt over time. In psychotherapy, DST/CT can be used to understand how a person’s mental and emotional state changes during therapy incorporating higher levels of complexity. This study aimed to systematically review the variability of DST/CT methods applied in psychotherapy research. Methods A primary studies search was conducted in the EBSCO and Web of Knowledge databases, extracting informationabout the analyzed DST/CT phenomena, employed mathematical methods to investigate these phenomena, descriptions of specified dynamic models, psychotherapy phenomena, and other information regarding studies with empirical data (e.g., measurement granularity). Results After screening 38,216 abstracts and 4,194 full texts, N = 41 studies published from 1990 to 2021 were identified.The employed methods typically included measures of dynamic complexity or chaoticity. Computational and simulation studies most often employed first-order ordinary differential equations and typically focused on describing the time evolution of client-therapist dyadic influences. Eligible studies with empirical data were usually based on case studies and focused on data with high time intensity of within-session dynamics. Conclusion This review provides a descriptive synthesis of the current state of the proliferation of DST/CT methods in the psychotherapy research field.
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