Empirical research across groups of psychotherapists regarding the phenomenon of working with client grief is limited, particularly research into psychologists’ experience in this area. This study’s inquiry aimed to shed light on the impact that working with issues of grief in this relationship-intensive profession might have on the experienced therapist, and what can be learned from this. This phenomenological study used qualitative methods to examine 12 psychologists' lived experiences of encountering client grief. An in-person, semi-structured interview was conducted with each participant, guided by three research questions: (1) How are experienced psychologists impacted by their recurrent close proximity to client’s experiences of grief and loss? (2) How do experienced psychologists time and again open themselves to and engage this affective work with clients? (3) How do experienced psychologists maintain vitality when time and again engaging in this relational work with clients experiencing loss? The data was analyzed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) methodology. Four superordinate themes were identified, under which 17 themes were organized. Superordinate themes included the following: (1) An expansive understanding of grief, (2) Navigating the intersections of personal and professional experience with grief, (3) Role of therapist in working with grief, and (4) Factors promoting resilience when working with grief. Analysis of participant responses served to illuminate the significance for therapists of encounters with client grief over time in the profession, with impact on therapist self-awareness, resilience, and training. Major findings, study strengths and limitations, recommendations, and implications are discussed.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation.September 2017. Major: Educational Psychology. Advisor: Thomas Skovholt. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 174 pages.
Encountering Client Grief: A Phenomenological Study of Experienced Psychologists.
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