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Ontological and Epistemological Reflexivity: A Core Skill for Therapists

Willig, C. ORCID: 0000-0001-9804-9141 (2019). Ontological and Epistemological Reflexivity: A Core Skill for Therapists. Counselling and Psychotherapy, 19(3), pp. 186-194. doi: 10.1002/capr.12204


This paper develops the argument that a core skill needed to be an effective therapist is to have acquired an awareness of one’s own ontological and epistemological position in relation to one’s work as a therapist. In the same way that researchers need to develop reflexive awareness of their assumptions about what there is to know (ontology) and how they can come to know about it (epistemology), therapists need to be aware of their fundamental assumptions about human beings and the world they live in (ontology) as well as their beliefs about how best to develop an understanding of their clients and the meaning(s) of their experiences (epistemology).
Regardless of which particular therapeutic model is adopted, the language used to talk about (and in) therapy, the kinds of questions asked of clients and the comments/interpretations offered, all presuppose and reinforce particular versions of human being and experiencing which are themselves not usually questioned or challenged during the course of therapy. In this paper it will be argued that it is essential that therapists are aware of their own fundamental assumptions about what it means to be human, and that they recognise their ontological and epistemological positions as positions that they are taking (rather than perceiving them to be self-evident truths). This is important for two reasons: i) if clients do not share the therapist’s assumptions (ie. their ‘model of the person’), the therapeutic work cannot proceed and be effective; ii) without such an awareness, therapists are at risk of unwittingly imposing their own model of the person upon the client which raises ethical issues.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Willig, C. (2018). Ontological and Epistemological Reflexivity: A Core Skill for Therapists. Counselling and Psychotherapy, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.
Publisher Keywords: ontological and epistemological assumptions; model of the person; therapist reflexivity; ‘vocabulary for action’
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
SWORD Depositor:
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