Retrospective accounts of emotional experiences during personal development groups in qualified counsellors and psychotherapists

Carole Smith, Viv Burr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Personal development (PD) groups are routinely used in the training of counsellors and psychotherapists. Experiences during such group processes are thought to contribute to the development of self-awareness, a quality seen as crucial for good practice in many therapeutic approaches. However, evidence from trainees suggests that the PD group experience may not be a positive or facilitative one for many. We also do not know how trainees, once qualified, process their PD group experiences over time. This paper reports findings from a qualitative study in which 12 experienced therapists were invited to reflect back upon their PD group experiences during their training. Their experiences of PD groups were invited through semi-structured interviews and the data analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). The findings show that most participants found their PD group experiences to be challenging, and that for some participants this was a welcome and facilitative experience. However, a significant number of participants had negative experiences in their PD groups, which at the time they felt to be damaging and which remained so in their view at the time of interview. Such experiences included feeling re-traumatised by recalling and sharing old traumas, feeling afraid of the volatility and punitiveness in their group and feeling overlooked or abandoned by the group facilitator. Nevertheless, all participants had made persistent efforts to process these experiences and had drawn from them what they regarded as valuable learning. Recommendations for counselling and psychotherapy training are put forward in the light of these findings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)238-249
Number of pages12
JournalCounselling and Psychotherapy Research
Issue number1
Early online date25 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022


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