Introduction: The significance of psychotherapeutic micro-processes, such as nonverbal facial expressions and relationship quality, is widely known, yet hitherto has not been investigated satisfactorily. In this exploratory study, we aim to examine the occurrence of micro-processes during psychotherapeutic treatment sessions, specifically facial micro-expressions, in order to shed light on their impact on psychotherapeutic interactions and patient-clinician relationships. Methods: In analyzing 22 video recordings of psychiatric interviews in a routine/acute psychiatric care unit of Vienna General Hospital, we were able to investigate clinicians’ and patients’ facial micro-expressions in conjunction with verbal interactions and types. To this end, we employed the Emotion Facial Action Coding System (EmFACS)—assessing the action units and microexpressions—and the Psychodynamic Intervention List (PIL). Also, the Working Alliance Inventory (WAI), assessed after each session by both patients and clinicians, provided information on the subjective quality of the clinician–patient relationship. Results: We found that interpretative/confrontative interventions are associated with displays of contempt from both therapists and patients. Interestingly, displays of contempt also correlated with higher WAI scores. We propose that these seemingly contradictory results may be a consequence of the complexity of affects and the interplay of primary and secondary emotions with intervention type. Conclusion: Interpretation, confrontation, and working through contemptuous microexpressions are major elements to the adequate control major pathoplastic elements. Affect-cognitive interplay is an important mediator in the working alliance.
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