In my PhD I research the interpersonal aspect of psychotherapeutic discourse in email therapy: how is the client-therapist relationship (= therapeutic alliance (Krupnick et al. 1996: 532)) discursively constructed when communicating solely in written form?
Two themes are central in my analysis of the therapeutic alliance: relational work and identity construction, including their possible link. Locher and Watts (2005:10) define relational work as "the 'work' individuals invest in negotiating relationships with others." Fina (2010: 207) emphasizes "the conception of identity as a process rather than as a concept, and the stress on interaction and social practices as its locus of construction and investigation." The study, hence, aims to advance our understanding of this specific practice (email counseling), to add to research on relational work in an under-researched area of electronic health discourse, and to shed light on the link between relational work and identity construction.
A mixed methodology has been chosen for the analysis: through a discourse analytic approach, emails are analyzed in terms of how technical and social factors influence the practice, what kind of discursive moves and their linguistic realizations are used, what kind of relational work is carried out, and how participants construct their identities. The resulting descriptive framework of discursive moves, relational work, and identity construction is cross-referenced to elaborate on how they can be linked to either endangering or enhancing the therapeutic alliance.
Fina, Anna. "The negotiation of identities." Interpersonal Pragmatics. M. A. Locher and S. L. Graham. Berlin, Mouton: 205-224.
Krupnick, J. L., S. M. Sotsky, et al. (1996). "The role of the therapeutic alliance in psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy outcome. Findings in the National Institute of mental Health Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program." Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 64(3): 532-539.
Locher, M. A. and S. L. Graham, Eds. (2010). Interpersonal Pragmatics. Handbooks of Pragmatics. Berlin, Mouton.
Locher, M. A. and R. J. Watts (2005). "Politeness theory and relational work." Journal of Politeness Research 1(1): 9-33.