The goal of this clinical practice review is to assess the current state of the theoretical and empirical literature on emotional crying (i.e., crying in response to an emotional stimulus), a topic that has received surprisingly limited attention of behavioral scientists and clinicians. Although the empirical research on emotional crying remains in a nascent state, we draw upon the existing scientific knowledge to provide preliminary suggestions for clinicians on how to interpret and respond to crying in clinical contexts. We also identify research gaps and provide recommendations for further research to improve our understanding of this intriguing and still poorly understood human behavior. We suggest that a better understanding of individual differences in crying behavior and the postulated intraindividual and interindividual functions of crying is of critical importance for clinicians, given its frequent occurrence and notable associations with emotional and social functioning. An improved characterization of this important phenomenon will lead to improvements in clinical assessment, treatment planning, and psychotherapy interventions.
Clinical Impact Statement—Question: We review the state of the empirical literature on human crying behavior, with a focus on crying of both patients and therapists in the clinical setting.
Findings: Findings may help guide how clinicians interpret and respond to crying in the clinical setting.
Meaning: Generally crying of therapists or patients appears to be beneficial in a clinical context, but this seems to depend on a number of contextual factors.
Next Steps: As current research on crying in the context of clinical assessment and psychotherapy is still very limited, further research is needed to fully understand how crying of patients and therapists impacts the therapeutic process, as well as how crying behavior manifests in various forms of psychopathology.
- PSEUDOBULBAR AFFECT
- PSYCHODYNAMIC PSYCHOTHERAPY
- individual differences
- psychotherapy process