Date of Award

8-2008

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Psychology

Major Professor

Leonard Handler

Committee Members

John W. Lounsbury, Richard A. Saudargas, Heather A. Hirschfeld

Abstract

The centrality of interpersonal relationships in both adaptive functioning and psychopathology is unmistaken. Across the lifespan, individuals are born into, develop within, and manifest their behaviors within a relational context. Within the clinical context, relationships in general and relational problems in particular are often key in defining and describing psychopathology and its etiology. Theory and research regarding the relationship between psychopathology and interpersonal functioning have yielded diverse conceptualizations and multitude of empirical findings, all indicative that psychopathology and interpersonal difficulties are inseparable.

The current study represents an added step in the empirical and conceptual process of clarifying the multi-layered relationship between interpersonal functioning and psychopathology. Utilizing a multi-method and multi-level methodological approach, it was investigated whether individuals who seek psychotherapy experience different quantity and quality of interpersonal problems, compared with non-patients. The current study also investigated in what ways patients‟ unconscious representations of self and others (internalized object relations) differ in quality from non-patients.

A clinical group of forty individuals who seek outpatient psychotherapy were compared to a non-patient group. Both groups were administered the SCL-90-R, IIP-32, Rorschach Inkblot Test, and the Mutuality of Autonomy Scale. The groups were compared across domains of psychopathology, interpersonal problems, and quality of object-relations functioning.

The clinical group showed significantly higher levels of psychological distress and vulnerability to psychopathology than the non-patient group. Similarly, the clinical group showed greater magnitude of interpersonal problems, originating from excessive dependency and a significant sense of lacking agency in their relationships. Significant deficits in object-relations functioning were found in the clinical group when compared to the non-patient group. The clinical group tended to experience greater interpersonal preoccupation, maladaptive interpersonal behaviors, an increased likelihood to expect and act aggressively in relationships, and greater vulnerability for impaired and inaccurate understanding of others and their needs. Furthermore, the clinical group‟s overall degree of deficits in self-object differentiation and impairments in the capacity for mutual and empathic object-relatedness were significantly higher in comparison to non-patients.

Conceptual and clinical meanings of the findings are discussed, along with their external validity in light of the current study's methodological and statistical limitations.

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