Integrative therapists’ clinical experiences of personal blind spots: an interpretative phenomenological analysis

MacMahon, Paula (2020) Integrative therapists’ clinical experiences of personal blind spots: an interpretative phenomenological analysis. DCPsych thesis, Middlesex University / Metanoia Institute.


This study uses Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to explore integrative psychotherapists’ lived experience of recognising a personal blind spot in their therapeutic work. The five female participants aged between 42-60 years have between two and twenty years clinical experience. Each participant was interviewed on two separate occasions, with a period of one month between interviews. The inductive approach of IPA sought to capture the richness and complexity of participants’ lived emotional experiences. Given the methodological challenges uncovering the implicit domain of participants’ blind spots, researcher reflexivity served as a secondary but integral data source and provided the experiential context from which meaningful findings emerged.

Three superordinate themes and seven subthemes emerged from the interviews: Feeling under pressure, Facing a Blind Spot and finding the missing piece, and Holding my own. Theme one explores participants’ loss of self-awareness when personal vulnerabilities are triggered by client work. It also describes maladaptive coping skills such as avoidance, employed to cope with feelings of vulnerability and shame. Theme two describes the process of facing a personal blind spot where participants recognise the impact of their personal needs and history on their therapeutic work. Theme three describes how self-compassion helps participants develop an expanded sense of self-awareness and capacity to be emotionally responsive to their clients despite their personal difficulties. The findings suggest that when shame is hidden and unacknowledged, it impacts on therapists’ ability to be emotionally responsive to their clients’ concerns. Furthermore, unacknowledged shame is a primary cause of therapeutic ruptures in their clinical work. The study recommends that continued research be undertaken into resilience towards shame in order to prepare and protect therapists against the normative force of subjective negative self-appraisal when they experience feelings of incompetence in their therapeutic work. Some aspects of these findings can be found in previous research on countertransference with participants of varying experience and varying therapeutic modalities. Given the centrality of the therapeutic relationship as a vehicle for successful therapeutic outcome, research that furthers our understanding of therapist emotional resilience and personal efficacy can help guide training and supervision.

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