• Lorie Muellenbach

Student thesis: Doctor of Counselling Psychology


Introduction: This is a study that explores how U.K.-based counselling psychology trainees perceive that they acquire the skills and abilities required for competent practice and their understanding of what it means to be competent practitioners. It outlines some of the factors that have influenced how therapeutic competence is defined in the current climate of NHS healthcare. It indicates that the training curriculum and the professional culture of their clinical placements influenced trainees' perceptions and definitions of therapeutic competence. Literature Review: The literature review for the thesis covers two major areas. Firstly the sources for discovering how therapeutic competence is defined in counselling and psychotherapy are presented before considering the standards for competent practice in counselling psychology. Secondly the literature on trainees' experiences in training and the qualitative studies related to trainees' experiences of developing competence in training. Key themes from this review indicate that the field of counselling psychology has a commitment to its philosophical roots in humanism, personal development, and evidence-based practice. Methodology: A philosophy of qualitative analysis which introduces the grounded theory method is outlined. The assumptions, values and epistemology of the researcher are stated. The phases of the study which include: 1, Recruitment, 2. Pilot Interviews, 3. Data Collection, 4. Data Analysis, and 5. Developing the Theoretical Framework are described. A qualitative research approach based on constructionist assumptions was utilised in this study. Eleven trainee counselling psychologists were interviewed. The interviews were analysed using grounded theory analysis. Findings: This section includes a summary of two analytical phases which produced focused codes and a coding hierarchy. The results were two core categories: Perceptions of Competence and Defining Competence. Seven subcategories were also developed. Three of these subcategories, Coursework, Observer Feedback and Self-Reflections on Competence, were associated with the core category, Perceptions of Competence. Four subcategories - Clinical Experience, Reflexive Thinking/Self-Awareness, Theories and Models, and Supervision - were linked with the core category, Defining Competence. Discussion: Methods were discussed by which trainees perceive, acquire, and define therapeutic competence. The themes of self-perception of competence and self-confidence were identified as being relevant to therapeutic competence. Some of the vehicles for developing competence were highlighted including the idea that participants reflect on their experiences in training and clinical practice to develop competence. Some surprising results included a lack of evidence to suggest that trainees were thinking about the influence of pharmacology on treatment and some key professional issues (like multicultural competence and the social justice agenda) did not garner very much attention in the interviews. My contribution to knowledge is to inform training and therapist development by illuminating these processes in the context of U.K. based training programmes and representing the trainees' voice in the literature on developing competence in counselling psychology.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorTerry Hanley (Supervisor), Elizabeth Ballinger (Supervisor) & Anthony Parnell (Supervisor)


  • psychology, educational
  • professional competence
  • counselor characteristics
  • psychotherapy training
  • counselor education
  • counselling psychology
  • counselor attitudes

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