Comparison of therapeutic interactions between face to face and telemediated communication conditions

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

A. Rodney Wellens - Committee Chair


The literature on therapeutic applications of electronic communication media (telephone and computer messaging) was reviewed. Wellens' (1986) psychological distancing model was used to conceptualize media in terms of available channels of communication (bandwidth). The literature on interpersonal distancing and research in common psychotherapeutic factors were reviewed in order to complete the foundation for experimental hypotheses addressing the effects of reduced bandwidth upon subjects' perceptions of therapeutic settings.In the experiment, fifty-four undergraduate subjects communicated with a therapist within each of three communication settings. A within-subjects design was used to compare subjects' self-reported experiences in face-to-face, telephone, and computer messaging conditions on the basis of six primary variables. Support was found for hypotheses predicting that narrow-bandwidth, telemediated therapy situations would yield significantly lower subject ratings of Self-Consciousness, Identifiability, and Therapist Qualities than face-to-face therapy. Contrary to the original hypotheses, subjects rated telemediated therapy as providing a significantly greater Lack-of-Opportunity-to-Reflect than face-to-face therapy. No significant differences were found among conditions for subject ratings of Informality and Ease-of-Communication.All six perceptual variables were statistically combined in a regression equation to predict the Acceptability of a communication medium. As hypothesized, high subject ratings of Self-Consciousness, Identifiability, and Lack-of-Opportunity-to-Reflect detracted from the overall Acceptability rating of a therapy situation, whereas high ratings of Therapist Qualities, Informality, and Ease-of-Communication enhanced such ratings. Only Lack-of-Opportunity-to-Reflect and Ease-of-Communication contributed significantly to the prediction of Acceptability.Finally, partial support was found for hypotheses relating the valence of the therapeutic issues to subject preference for narrower bandwidth media. Overall, subjects expressed an overwhelming pre-experimental preference for face-to-face therapy, indicating strong norms for this traditional form of therapy. Further research is necessary to clarify the distinction between client preference for, versus acceptability of, specific therapeutic media and to address the issues of differential therapeutic outcome in order to determine appropriate applications of electronic media in therapeutic settings.


Psychology, Social; Psychology, Clinical

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