City Research Online

"Stained by the shame": A narrative analysis of the stories told by psychological therapists about becoming the subject of a formal complaint of professional misconduct

Graff, V. (2023). "Stained by the shame": A narrative analysis of the stories told by psychological therapists about becoming the subject of a formal complaint of professional misconduct. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Hundreds of psychological therapists are reported every year to UK-based professional bodies for alleged misconduct. On average, a therapist starting out has an approximate one-in-four chance of receiving a formal complaint at some point in a 30-year career. Though the number of therapists found guilty of wrongdoing is small, the mere fact of being accused appears, on the available published evidence, to be very distressing. Yet research in this area is sparse.

This qualitative study adopts a pluralistic narrative approach to explore the accounts of therapists who had been the subject of a complaint of professional misconduct in the previous 10 years. Semi-structured interviews were held with six participants (four female, two male). Two participants reported that complaints against them were upheld. Four reported that the complaints were not upheld. Participants’ accounts were analysed using a structural narrative method based on Labov (1972) and a thematic narrative method based on Williams (1984)’s “narrative reconstruction” framework. The aim was to seek insights into the way the six participants made sense of their experience of the complaint; and also to explore how they tackled the resulting biographical rupture and potential damage to their sense of self. This dual approach enabled the analysis to capture elements of the therapists’ stories that would not have been available using a single narrative method.

Findings revealed that all participants experienced the submission of a complaint against them as an attack on both their personal and professional identity, leading to feelings of anger, shame and powerlessness. The stories they shared sought to make sense of what had happened to them by anchoring the experience of the complaint within a familiar worldview (e.g., class conflict or relational dynamics). Stories were also used to affirm or stake a claim to some common and universally admired human qualities such as expertise, integrity, survivorship and compassion.

These findings are considered in relation to existing literature, and potential implications for practice, regulation and future research are drawn.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Graff thesis 2023 redacted PDF-A.pdf] Text - Accepted Version
This document is not freely accessible until 30 September 2026 due to copyright restrictions.


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