A Computerized Text and Cluster Analysis Approach to Psychotherapy Talk


  • Dennis Tay The Hong Kong Polytechnic University




This paper illustrates an analytical approach combining LIWC, a computer text-analytic application, with cluster analysis techniques to explore ‘language styles’ in psychotherapy across sessions in time. It categorizes session transcripts into distinct clusters or styles based on linguistic (di)similarity and relates them to sessional progression, thus providing entry points for further qualitative exploration. In the first step, transcripts of four illustrative therapist-client dyads were scored under ten LIWC variables including ‘analytic thinking’, ‘clout’, ‘authenticity’, ‘emotional tone’, and pronoun types. In the next step, agglomerative hierarchical clustering uncovered distinct session clusters that are differently distributed in each dyad. The relationships between these clusters and the chronological progression of sessions were then further discussed in context as contrastive exemplars. Applications, limitations and future directions are highlighted.


Althoff, T., Clark, K., & Leskovec, J. (2016). Large-scale analysis of counseling conversations: An application of natural language processing to mental health. Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics, 4, 463–476.

Archer, D., Wilson, A., & Rayson, P. (2002). Introduction to the USAS category system. Benedict project report.

Aronov, N. E., & Brodsky, S. L. (2009). The river model: a metaphor and tool for training new psychotherapists. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 39, 187–195.

Avdi, E., & Georgaca, E. (2007). Discourse analysis and psychotherapy: A critical review. European Journal of Psychotherapy, Counselling & Health, 9, 157–176.

Blashfield, R. (1976). Mixture model tests of cluster analysis: accuracy of four agglomerative hierarchical methods. Psychological Bulletin, 83, 377–388.

Cirillo, L., & Crider, C. (1995). Distinctive therapeutic uses of metaphor. Psychotherapy, 32, 511–519.

Claiborn, C. D., & Goodyear, R. K. (2005). Feedback in psychotherapy. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61, 209–217.

Clatworthy, J., Buick, D., Hankins, M., Weinman, J., & Horne, R. (2005). The use and reporting of cluster analysis in health psychology: A review. British Journal of Health Psychology, 10, 329–358.

Cohn, M. A., Mehl, M. R., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2014). Linguistic markers of psychological change surrounding September 11, 2001. Psychological Science, 15, 687–693.

de Fina, A. (1995). Pronominal choice, identity and solidarity in political discourse. Text, 15, 379–410.

Demiray, Ç. K., & Gençöz, T. (2018). Linguistic reflections on psychotherapy: Change in usage of the first person pronoun in information structure positions. Journal of Psycholinguist Research, 47, 959–973.

Everitt, B. S., Landau, S., Leese, M., & Stahl, D. (2011). Cluster analysis (5th ed.). Chichester, UK: Wiley.

Ferrara, K. W. (1994). Therapeutic ways with words. Oxford studies in sociolinguistics. New Yorkm NY: Oxford University Press.

Ferreira, L., & Hitchcock, D. (2009). A comparison of hierarchical methods for clustering functional data. Communications in Statistics - Simulation and Computation, 38, 1925–1949.

Freud, S. (1924). A General introduction to psychoanalysis. New York, NY: Horace.

Hands, S., & Everitt, B. (1987). A Monte Carlo study of the recovery of cluster structure in binary data by hierarchical clustering techniques. Multivariate Behaviorial Research, 22, 235–243.

He, Q., Veldkamp, B. P., Glas, C. A. W., & de Vries, T. (2017). Automated assessment of patients’ self-narratives for posttraumatic stress disorder screening using natural language processing and text mining. Assessment, 24, 157–172.

Huston, J., Meier, S. T., Faith, M., & Reynolds, A. (2019). Exploratory study of automated linguistic analysis for progress monitoring and outcome assessment. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 19, 321–328.

Kacewicz, E., Pennebaker, J. W., Jeon, M., Graesser, A. C., & Davis, M. (2013). Pronoun use reflects standings in social hierarchies. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 33, 125–143.

Kassembara, A. (2017). Practical guide to cluster analysis in R. Retrieved from www.sthda.com.

Koole, S. L., & Tschacher, W. (2016). Synchrony in psychotherapy: A review and an integrative framework for the therapeutic alliance. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1–17.

Kopp, R. R., & Craw, M. J. (1998). Metaphoric language, metaphoric cognition, and cognitive therapy. Psychotherapy, 35, 306–311.

Kuiper, F., & Fisher, L. (1975). A Monte Carlo comparison of six clustering procedures. Biometrics, 31, 777–783.

Labov, W., & Fanshel, D. (1977). Therapeutic discourse: Psychotherapy as conversation. New York, NY: Academic Press.

Lyddon, W. J., Clay, A. L., & Sparks, C. L. (2001). Metaphor and change in counselling. Journal of Counseling & Development, 79, 269–274.

Mergenthaler, E., & Bucci, W. (1999). Linking verbal and non‐verbal representations: Computer analysis of referential activity. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 72, 339–354.

Mondada, L. (2010). Therapy interactions: Specific genre or “blown up” version of ordinary conversational practices? Pragmatics, 8, 155–165.

Newman, M. L., Pennebaker, J. W., Berry, D. S., & Richards, J. M. (2003). Lying words: Predicting deception from linguistic styles. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 665–675.

Norcross, J. C. (1990). An eclectic definition of psychotherapy. In J. K. Zeig & W. M. Munion (Eds.), What is psychotherapy? Contemporary Perspectives (pp. 218–220). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pennebaker, J. W., Boyd, R. L., Jordan, K., & Blackburn, K. (2015). The development and psychometric properties of LIWC2015. Austin, TX: University of Texas at Austin.

Pennebaker, J. W., Chung, C. K., Frazee, J., Lavergne, G. M., & Beaver, D. I. (2014). When small words foretell academic success: The case of college admissions essays. PloS One, 9, 1–10.

Peräkylä, A., Antaki, C., Vehviläinen, S., & Leudar, I. (Eds.). (2011). Conversation analysis and psychotherapy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Pittenger, R. E., Hockett, C. F., & Danehy, J. J. (1960). The first five minutes. Ithaca, Greece: Carl Martineau.

Rizzuto, A. M. (1993). First person personal pronouns and their psychic referents. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 74, 535–546.

Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centered therapy: Its current practice, implications and theory. London, UK: Constable.

Saraçli, S., Doǧan, N., & Doǧan, I. (2013). Comparison of hierarchical cluster analysis methods by cophenetic correlation. Journal of Inequalities and Applications, 203, 1–8.

Sokal, R., & Rohlf, J. (1962). The comparison of dendograms by objective methods. Taxon, 11, 33–40.

Spong, S. (2010). Discourse analysis: Rich pickings for counsellors and therapists. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 10, 67–74.

Steen, G. J., Dorst, A. G., Herrmann, J. B., Kaal, A. A., Krennmayr, T., & Pasma, T. (2010). A method for linguistic metaphor identification: From MIP to MIPVU. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamins.

Stott, R., Mansell, W., Salkovskis, P., Lavender, A., & Cartwright-Hatton, S. (2010). Oxford guide to metaphors in CBT. Building cognitive bridges. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Szmrecsanyi, B. (2012). Grammatical variation in British English dialects: A study in corpus-based dialectometry. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Tausczik, Y. R., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2010). The psychological meaning of words : LIWC and computerized text analysis methods. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 29, 24–54.

Tay, D. (2011). Discourse markers as metaphor signalling devices in psychotherapeutic talk. Language and Communication, 31, 310-317.

Tay, D. (2013). Metaphor in psychotherapy. A descriptive and prescriptive analysis. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamins.

Tay, D. (2014). Metaphor theory for counselling professionals. In J. Littlemore & J. R. Taylor (Eds.), Bloomsbury Companion to Cognitive Linguistics (pp. 352–367). London, UK: Bloomsbury.

Tay, D. (2017a). The nuances of metaphor theory for constructivist psychotherapy. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 30, 165–181.

Tay, D. (2017b). Time series analysis of discourse. A case study of metaphor in psychotherapy sessions. Discourse Studies, 19, 694–710.

Tay, D. (2019). Time series analysis of discourse. Method and case studies. New York, NY: Routledge.

Van Staden, C. W., & Fulford, & K. W. M. (2004). Changes in semantic uses of first person pronouns as possible linguistic markers of recovery in psychotherapy. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 38, 226–232.

Watson, D. L., & Laffal, J. (1963). Sources of verbalizations of psychotherapists about patients. Journal of General Psychology, 68, 89–98.

Wohl, J. (1989). Integration of cultural awareness into psychotherapy. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 43, 343–355.

Yim, O., & Ramdeen, K. T. (2015). Hierarchical cluster analysis: Comparison of three linkage measures and application to psychological data. The Quantitative Methods for Psychology, 11, 8–21.

Zimmerman, J., Brockmeyer, T., Hunn, M., Schauenburg, H., & Wolf, M. (2016). First-person Pronoun use in spoken language as a predictor of future depressive symptoms: Preliminary evidence from a clinical sample of depressed patients. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 24, 384–391.




How to Cite

Tay, D. (2020). A Computerized Text and Cluster Analysis Approach to Psychotherapy Talk. Language and Psychoanalysis, 9(1), 4–25. https://doi.org/10.7565/landp.v9i1.1701



Original Articles