Working Relationally With Clients Who Have Experienced Abuse: Exploring Counselling Psychologists’ Experiences Using IPA

Carly Malcolm, Richard Golsworthy


Whilst much research has been conducted into the efficacy of and guidelines for technical interventions in the treatment of abuse, it is argued that a relational or process approach to therapeutic work should become more integrated into the use of technical interventions to aid therapeutic outcome. The study aims to explore counselling psychologists’ experiences when working with clients who have experienced abuse. Semi-structured interviews were conducted and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Six participants were recruited and asked to share their experiences of their therapeutic work with the client group. The research was given ethical approval by the ethics committee of the university. Three superordinate themes emerged from the data: ‘The Holding Environment’, ‘The Personal versus The Professional’ and ‘Internal Responses, External Communications’. These were supported by various subthemes within the accounts and were generated as a result of a double hermeneutic engagement with each interview transcript. This research contributes towards a deeper understanding of the processes involved in creating a therapeutic space for the work and the relational dynamics involved in providing therapy to clients who have experienced abuse. The dynamic process between empathising and ‘detaching’ in session, as well as counselling psychologists’ use of supervision, are highlighted as areas for further study.


counselling psychology; abuse; therapeutic relationship; relational dynamics