City Research Online

Therapists’ internalised representations of their therapist: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

O'Neill, R. (2015). Therapists’ internalised representations of their therapist: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Research investigating clients’ internalised representations of their therapists has shown that developed therapist representations can be evoked by clients both within therapy and post-therapy. Clients can use their therapist representations to problem-solve, to self-soothe and to introspect. However, research suggests that clients may experience difficulty in forming representations of their therapists where there is either an absence of a therapeutic alliance or therapy relationship. Given that most therapists have engaged in therapy as clients themselves it is likely they also can potentially form representations of their therapists. From a Counselling Psychology perspective, therapists who can form representations of their therapists may be able to use these for personal and professional development. Considering the implications of therapists possibly using their therapist representations, it would seem relevant to investigate therapists’ experiencing of this phenomenon. Therefore, this qualitative study aims to explore how therapists experience their therapist representations. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight participants, -three psychologists and five psychotherapists, - all of whom were therapists and had completed a minimum of one ended year of personal therapy with the same therapist. Using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) the transcripts were analysed which indicated three master themes: 1) letting the therapist in, 2) identifying with the therapist, 3) the changes within. It was found that the participants seemed to have experienced a felt-presence of the representations of their therapists either alongside them or inside of them. They seemed to experience their therapist representations as holding. These representations may have had a reparative function of early object-relations thus improving current interpersonal relationships. The participants experienced imagined dialogue almost as a mentor-mentee style relationship. Interpretations of the participants’ descriptions of their experiences appeared to make the process of internalised representations more explicit. The implications, applications and limitations of this qualitative study are addressed from a Counselling Psychology perspective.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of O'Neill, Ronan (redacted).pdf]
Text - Accepted Version
Download (8MB) | Preview


Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics

Actions (login required)

Admin Login Admin Login