‘On being held captive by the unwelcome guest’. NCS practitioners’ experiences of working with the victim-self

Peelo, Sheila (2016) ‘On being held captive by the unwelcome guest’. NCS practitioners’ experiences of working with the victim-self. Other thesis, Middlesex University.


This research was set up in order to examine therapeutic practice with victimisation relating to clients abuse as children. The central concern of the study focused on how the victim aspect of the self, or the ‘victim-self’, impacts therapeutic practice and what the corresponding practitioner response is. This interaction provides clues to the way practitioners construct victimisation and whether this contributes to the client’s victim-self and victimisation. The second important concern of the project was to evaluate the learning achieved through collaborative researching.

Taking a participatory action research approach to researching, I set up a co-operative inquiry group with five counsellor/therapist colleagues in the National Counselling Service in Ireland. The inquiry group’s stated aim was to change practice relating to the victim-self presentation. The inquiry and evaluation transcripts were analysed using a constructivist grounded theory method and preliminary findings were presented to the group for consultation and revision, in keeping with the multi-voiced philosophy of co-operative inquiry. Preliminary and intermediate findings were presented to my peers at conference to further develop their credibility and trustworthiness.

The findings indicate that practitioners constructed the victim-self as a positional phenomenon, which acts both internally and in the world to protect, defend and control. The victim-self positions frequently exert a bind on practitioner agency resulting in urgent actions.

The study revealed that practitioners moved through a stage process in addressing the bind. As a consequence, practitioners found a change in agentic functioning and empathic connection to victimisation.

The findings suggest that the victim-self is poorly understood psychologically. Furthermore, there is a gap in awareness about the potential for practitioners to contribute to victimisation and further reduce client agency. It further suggests that therapeutic practitioners require specific forms of supervision in order to manage and transform the impact upon them of victimisation.

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