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Exploring the therapeutic relationship in the digital age

Rashid, S. (2018). Exploring the therapeutic relationship in the digital age. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


The demand for online counselling continues to grow, yet the presence of counselling psychologists who work in this way is limited (Wong, Bonn, Tam & Wong., 2018; Shaw & Shaw, 2006). One of the reasons cited for this is due to factors surrounding the therapeutic relationship (Richards & Viganó, 2012; Hanley & Reynolds, 2009) yet little is known about the experience of this. It is therefore important to explore the therapeutic relationship in online settings, particularly from the perspective of the therapist.

This study explores how counselling psychologists experience the therapeutic relationship online when connecting via videoconference technology. Six counselling psychologists described their experience during individual, one-to-one semi-structured interviews, conducted online via webcam. Participant interviews were transcribed and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. There are three superordinate themes that were established from the data and each theme consists of related sub-themes. Superordinate theme 1: ‘“It reduces it to that little box”: the perception of physical distance in the therapeutic relationship online’. This theme explored participants’ perception of not sharing the same physical and environmental space as their client. Superordinate theme 2: ‘“It’s head to head therapy”: the paradoxical experience of the therapeutic relationship online’. This theme contextualises and explores the meaning making of the inconsistencies in participants’ experience of the therapeutic relationship. Superordinate theme 3: ‘“Working with my hands tied behind my back”: ethical concerns and perceived struggles of engaging in a therapeutic relationship online’. The final theme acknowledges the ethical concerns and experience of struggles identified by the participants and explores the deeper subjective experience of power dynamics and feeling of inhibition in the online environment. All themes are discussed in relation to previous research regarding the online therapeutic relationship and implications for counselling psychology practice are considered. In particular, the need for training professionals to feel more comfortable and confident working with clients online is supported. The areas of improvement, strengths and suggestions for future research are also highlighted.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
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