Professional Identity Development: A Grounded Theory Study of Clinical Psychology Trainees
This is a constructivist grounded theory study of the impact of the clinical psychology flexible training scheme on the development of professional identity. Professional identity development involves the acquisition of new role behaviours and new views of the self. Research into professional identity development amongst clinical psychology trainees is scarce. Studies involving clinical psychology trainees have mainly focused on their psychological adaptation to the challenges of training. A longitudinal study of the 2003 cohort of the University of Edinburgh Clinical Psychology Training Programme was conducted to identify factors that facilitate and impede professional identity development. A combination of focus groups and individual interviews were used to explore flexible trainees’ experiences during their 4th and 5th years of training and the experiences of 4-year flexible and 3-year trainees in their first-year post-qualification. All interviews were transcribed and coded line-by-line in order to facilitate the development of analytic categories. Six main categories were identified: Perceived Competence, Formal Status, Comparisons of Self with Others, Expectations of Others, Role Conflict and Role Ambiguity. The results suggest that professional identity development involves attaining equilibrium between the formal status of the role and the individual’s perceived competence in that role. Role conflict, role ambiguity, comparisons of self with others and the expectations of others can all create a sense of disequilibrium and impede the individual’s ability to identify with the professional role. It would appear that flexible trainees are better able to identify with the professional role on qualification as they have greater opportunities to develop a sense of competence during their training in comparison with their 3-year peers. However, they also appear to experience greater conflict and ambiguity in their roles as flexible trainees, which has implications for their identity development during training.