Conditionals in therapy and counseling sessions: Therapists' and clients' uses of what-if constructions

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Based on transcribed spoken data, this study explores therapists’ and clients’ uses of what-if constructions in therapy and counseling sessions. It seeks to establish how these constructions are used, whether there are usage differences between these two groups of speakers, and, if so, how such differences can be explained. The study concludes that both therapists and clients use what if, but they do so to satisfy different communicative needs. Clients primarily use what if to convey worry and doubt (What if don’t like it there?), whereas therapists use what if to summarize and re-construe their clients' worries, to present alternative perspectives and entertain potential consequences (What if you gave up your guilt?). Both groups of speakers use what if to prompt (re)enactment of scenarios, often in connection with metarepresented speech and thought (I was like, “What if he is here?”). The study offers linguistic support for clinical observations concerning the prevalence of what-if reasoning in anxiety disorders, and additionally illustrates how therapists use language to trigger reality-distancing in their clients. Through a systematic application of Chilton’s Deictic Space Theory, the study demonstrates the utility of a cognitive linguistic approach to the consideration of interactive spoken data.


External organisations
  • Umeå University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-126
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch