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‘Rich’ and ‘poor’ in mentalizing: do expert mentalizers exist?

  • Rogoff, S
  • Moulton-Perkins, A
  • Warren, F
  • Nolte, T
  • Fonagy, P
Publication Date
Oct 25, 2021
UCL Discovery
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Mentalization theory is concerned with the capacity to notice, and make sense of, thoughts and feelings in self and others. This development may be healthy or impaired and therefore, by extension, it may be theorized that expertise in mentalizing can exist. Furthermore, a continuum from impairment to expertise should exist within separate dimensions of mentalizing: of self and of others. This study hypothesized that three groups would be distinguishable on the basis of their mentalizing capacities. In a cross-sectional design, Psychological Therapists (‘expert’ mentalizers; n = 51), individuals with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (‘poor’ mentalizers; n = 43) and members of the general population (‘non-clinical controls’; n = 35) completed a battery of self-report measures. These assessed the mentalizing of self and of others (using an extended version of the Reflective Function Questionnaire (RFQ18)), alexithymia and cognitive empathy. As hypothesized, Psychological Therapists’ scores were higher than controls on self-mentalizing and control group scores were higher than those with BPD. Cognitive empathy scores in the BPD group indicated markedly lower capacities than the other two groups. Contrary to predictions, no significant differences were found between groups on mentalizing others in RFQ18 scores. The Psychological Therapist and BPD profiles were characterized by differential impairment in self and others but in opposing directions. Results suggest that the RFQ18 can identify groups with expertise in mentalizing. Implications of these results for the effectiveness of psychological therapy and of Psychological Therapists are discussed.

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