Clients' Experiences of Counselling: A Phenomenological Investigation
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The topic of client experience of counselling as described from the perspective of the client has been neglected in the field of counselling research until very recently. The present study sought to continue the work of research conducted to rectify this imbalance, by adopting a phenomenological interview approach to address the research question ‘What are clients’ experiences of counselling?’ Qualitative, semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight counselling clients who had either recently completed a course of treatment using a one-to-one ‘talking therapy’ of varying orientations, or who were still in treatment. Interviews were then transcribed and analysed using interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) and three recurrent themes were identified which were relevant across participants: 1) Complete Client-Focus Achieved Through Mutual Attention, 2) Complexities of the Therapeutic Alliance Give It Its Unique Function, and 3) Client Regains Access to Sense of Self. It was found that clients began counselling with a damaged or disconnected sense of self as a result of negative labelling and stigma. The ‘being’ qualities of the counsellor coupled with construction of meaning by client self-narration, in the context of a complex yet facilitative therapeutic alliance, increased client self-esteem and self-control to address this damage and reconnect the client with their sense of self. Unexpected findings of the study as well as a possible confusion in contrasting counsellor/client interpretations of the counselling process draw attention for the need to consider client views as well as those of counsellors in further research. Furthermore, future research should adopt similar methodologies which allow participants to remain the authority on what is most meaningful and significant for them about the phenomenon of counselling and encourage self-narration in order to construct personal meaning, as an imitation of the counselling process itself.