Michael Tanana, Christina Soma, Patty B. Kuo, Nicolas M. Bertagnolli, Aaron Dembe, Brian T. Pace, Vivek Srikumar, David Atkins and Zac Imel
Behavior Research Methods, volume 53, 5, 2021.


Emotional distress is a common reason for seeking psychotherapy, and sharing emotional material is central to the process of psychotherapy. However, systematic research examining patterns of emotional exchange that occur during psychotherapy sessions is often limited in scale. Traditional methods for identifying emotion in psychotherapy rely on labor-intensive observer ratings, client or therapist ratings obtained before or after sessions, or involve manually extracting ratings of emotion from session transcripts using dictionaries of positive and negative words that do not take the context of a sentence into account. However, recent advances in technology in the area of machine learning algorithms, in particular natural language processing, have made it possible for mental health researchers to identify sentiment, or emotion, in therapisttextendash client interactions on a large scale that would be unattainable with more traditional methods. As an attempt to extend prior findings from Tanana et al. (2016), we compared their previous sentiment model with a common dictionary-based psychotherapy model, LIWC, and a new NLP model, BERT. We used the human ratings from a database of 97,497 utterances from psychotherapy to train the BERT model. Our findings revealed that the unigram sentiment model (kappa = 0.31) outperformed LIWC (kappa = 0.25), and ultimately BERT outperformed both models (kappa = 0.48).


Bib Entry

  author = {Tanana, Michael J. and Soma, Christina S. and Kuo, Patty B. and Bertagnolli, Nicolas M. and Dembe, Aaron and Pace, Brian T. and Srikumar, Vivek and Atkins, David C. and Imel, Zac E.},
  title = {{How Do You Feel? Using Natural Language Processing to Automatically Rate Emotion in Psychotherapy}},
  journal = {Behavior Research Methods},
  year = {2021},
  volume = {53}