Theatres of the Self-Conscious Emotions
: The Drama of Performance and Audience in the Psychotherapist’s Professional Development

  • Sally-Anne Ennis

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This is an exploration of the impact of the self-conscious emotions upon the experience of psychotherapists’ continuing professional development, particularly in settings where there may be a sense of performance and audience. The exploration is located within the Cognitive Analytic Therapy community though it is intended to inform broader understanding of engagement with continuing professional development. The literature review highlighted the performance and audience dynamics both within these emotions and in the pertinent training settings. The review also indicated that further empirical research was needed. As a Cognitive Analytic Psychotherapist, the research for this thesis is embedded in the ontological premise that everything is relationally derived, in tune with this model’s “radically social concept of the self” (Ryle and Kerr, 2002, p.34). Two settings were chosen for this qualitative study: the annual conference and process groups, the latter a training course component. Although different in terms of scale and intimacy, both settings offered an opportunity to explore emotional experience in professional development contexts where self-evaluation and perception of evaluation by others was likely. For the conference study, a qualitative questionnaire was created to investigate the emotional experience. In the case of the process groups, face to face interviews were conducted to allow further discussion. The data was analysed using Template Analysis (King, 2012). The Template Analysis highlighted the powerful but hidden dynamics of self-conscious emotions in both the conference and process groups. The major overlapping theme was a Fear of Exposure and Rejection. For a significant number of participants, this necessitated management of visibility by hiding or performing in order to cope with the accompanying, and at times excruciating self-conscious emotions. The results demonstrated performance within the audience and a marked lack of dialogue and unspoken, unprocessed feelings. Yet the large participant response suggested a wish to talk about such struggles. Implications are discussed as to the future of process groups and conferences.
Date of Award30 Jan 2024
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorVicki Smith (Main Supervisor) & Dawn Leeming (Co-Supervisor)

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