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Interpretative phenomenological analysis and clinical practice: therapists’ accounts of working with clients experiencing spiritual struggles following trauma.

Coyle, A and Lochner, J (2009) Interpretative phenomenological analysis and clinical practice: therapists’ accounts of working with clients experiencing spiritual struggles following trauma. In: British Psychological Society Annual Conference, 2009-04-01 - 2009-04-03, Brighton.

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Since its appearance in the mid-1990s, interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) has become one of the leading research methods in British qualitative psychology. Its success within this short time frame can be attributed to factors specific to the method (such as its demystification of the qualitative research process and its consequent accessibility) and to the historical context within which it was developed (that is, a context of increasing interest in and openness to qualitative approaches within British psychology), as well as the committed promotional work undertaken by the method’s originator. In accordance with its phenomenological commitment, much IPA research has examined how people understand and make sense of significant events in their lives, usually with participants who have themselves experienced the (often psychologically challenging) phenomena that constitute the research focus. However, IPA has also been used to explore clinical practitioners’ accounts of their practice with particular client groups, focusing on practitioners’ understandings of client issues and practice challenges. Both types of research carry considerable potential for informing and enriching clinical practice. Following a brief overview of the principles and practicalities of IPA, this paper presents an example of the latter type of study, which examined seven psychotherapists’ accounts of working with clients who were experiencing spiritual struggles following traumatic life events. Seven super-ordinate themes were discerned relating to therapists’ perceptions and interpretations of clients’ presenting and related issues: relevant therapeutic tasks; therapists’ own therapeutic and religious stances; professional and ethical issues around neutrality, sameness and difference and self-disclosure; the challenges of ‘finding the language’ in which to discuss and understand spiritual concepts within a psychological framework; useful therapeutic resources; and the reported impact of this work on therapists’ spiritual struggles, journeys and meaning-making. When considering the potential clinical value of IPA work, standard questions (faced by most qualitative research) need to be addressed concerning, for example, its transferability beyond its context of generation. These are considered in relation to the focal study, although the possibility of accessing the universal through a systematic analysis of the particular also needs to be acknowledged. Parallels and divergences between IPA research processes and therapeutic processes (especially within humanistic models) are noted. However, caveats are provided concerning the interpretation of practitioner data as straightforward reflections of client experiences. Particular attention is paid to how the focal study, despite its specific topic, yielded fully contextualised themes that related to standard concerns across psychotherapeutic practice contexts. It thus serves to reassure therapists who may be uncertain about their competence to engage meaningfully with issues of spirituality that they may already possess the resources for such engagement.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (UNSPECIFIED)
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Authors :
Coyle, A
Lochner, J
Date : 2009
Contributors :
ContributionNameEmailORCID Psychological Society,
Related URLs :
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 28 Mar 2017 15:28
Last Modified : 31 Oct 2017 15:10

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