Research Summary: Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and Short-Term Psychotherapeutic Success

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Research Summary: Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and Short-Term Psychotherapeutic Success

THC Editorial Team April 5, 2023
Photo by Stephen Andrews on Unsplash
Photo by Stephen Andrews on Unsplash


In a study led by scholars from Ulm University Medical Center in Germany, researchers found that Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measures helped determine outcome success for short-term psychotherapeutic intervention.1

This single-armed, single-center explorative study involved a psychotherapeutic consultation in the workplace (PSIW) program for emotionally burdened and distressed employees of a German center for disability care. The PSIW program is based on psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral theories and was offered based on an initial expert diagnosis. The treatment contained a maximum of twelve 50-minute sessions.

Twenty-nine participants were measured using questionnaires, an ECG measurement to assess HRV, and a cortisol profile performed at varying times during the study.

The researchers found that the study participants with higher HRV measures at baseline were less symptomatic at follow-up. The researchers suggest that these findings support the potential of HRV to reflect a person’s ability to recover, adapt, and demonstrate resilience. The study’s authors suggest that individuals with lower HRV may require additional therapeutic sessions to achieve similar results. They also recommend exercises that can potentially improve HRV, such as physical exercise and a healthy diet, and those that stimulate the vagus nerve, such as biofeedback and relaxation training.

Another study using data from a randomized controlled trial involving 570 individuals with coronary artery disease also found an association between higher HRV scores and more favorable depression outcomes.2

The researchers allude to the study’s limitations and generalizability due to its limited sample size, lack of randomization, and a few methodological challenges.


  1. Balint, E. M., Daniele, V., Langgartner, D., Reber, S. O., Rothermund, E., Gündel, H., Von Wietersheim, J., Buckley, T., & Jarczok, M. N. (2023). Heart rate variability predicts outcome of short-term psychotherapy at the workplace. Psychophysiology, 60(1), e14150.
  2. Vitinius, F., Escherich, S., Deter, H. C., Hellmich, M., Jünger, J., Petrowski, K., Ladwig, K. H., Lambertus, F., Michal, M., Weber, C., de Zwaan, M., Herrmann-Lingen, C., Ronel, J., & Albus, C. (2019). Somatic and sociodemographic predictors of depression outcome among depressed patients with coronary artery disease - a secondary analysis of the SPIRR-CAD study. BMC psychiatry, 19(1), 57.

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