The Attenuating Effect of Depression Symptoms on Negative-Affect Expression: Individual and Group Effects in Group Psychotherapy for Personality Disorders

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Across a breadth of psychotherapeutic approaches, feeling affect intensely and then talking about those feelings is a common means for increasing insight and other desired outcomes. While several naturalistic and laboratory studies have found that depression symptoms attenuate (i.e., weaken) the association between negative-affect intensity and negative-affect expression, depression’s attenuating effect has not been examined in a psychotherapeutic context. The first aim of the present study was to examine if depression symptoms’ attenuating effect on the association between negative-affect intensity and negative-affect expression extended into group psychotherapy. Our second aim was to examine group effects on patients’ negative-affect expression. Participants (N = 239) were patients consecutively admitted into a psychodynamic group-psychotherapy day treatment program for people with personality disorders. Patients indicated their negative-affect intensity and negative-affect expression each week that they were in treatment. Depression symptoms were assessed at baseline. Results indicated that depression symptoms attenuated (i.e., moderated) the association between negative-affect intensity and negative-affect expression. Further, while the association between patient intensity and expression increased over the course of treatment, the moderating effect of depression on this association did not vary over treatment. Regarding group effects, group negative-affect intensity was associated with higher levels of patient negative-affect expression. Inversely, group affect expression was associated with lower levels of patient affect expression. Patient depression symptoms did not moderate the association between group negative-affect intensity and patient negative-affect expression. Our findings indicate that while group affect intensity and affect expression impacts patients’ expression, depression’s attenuating effect on negative-affect expression extends to patient effects but not group effects. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved)


This article was originally published as Cox, D. W., Kealy, D., Kahn, J. H., Wojcik, K. D., Joyce, A. S., & Ogrodniczuk, J. S. (2019). The attenuating effect of depression symptoms on negative-affect expression: Individual and group effects in group psychotherapy for personality disorder. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 66(3), 351–361.