Counsellors' experience of being changed by clients: A narrative autoethnographic inquiry.

  • Anna-Gret Higgins

Student thesis: Phd


Counsellors' experience of being changed by clients: A narrative autoethnographic inquiry.University of Manchester, Professional Doctorate in CounsellingAnna-Gret Higgins, 2016This thesis addresses four research questions:1. Are counsellors changed by their clients?2. If so, how do they make meaning of any change?3. How does the academic literature explain these changes? 4. How do counsellors ensure change is positive?Previous research has largely focused on the negative effects of clients' stories on counsellors. The potentially positive impact is relatively unexplored - despite the fact that research suggests that it is possible for people who directly experience a wide range of traumatic experiences to grow as a result (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996). Moreover, a handful of research studies has suggested that it is possible to experience these changes vicariously (Manning-Jones, deTerte & Stephens, 2015).This thesis describes a qualitative research study carried out with eight counsellors who worked either in a hospice (counselling clients experiencing bereavement or illness) or in private practice (counselling clients who had experienced sexual violence). Narrative inquiry and autoethnography were used to collect and analyse counsellors' stories of being changed by their clients and re-presented as poetic representation, visual art and polyvocal texts. The results show that counsellors do indeed share stories of being changed: sometimes for the worse but often for the better. These changes are in the areas of self-perception, interpersonal relationships and life philosophy and are largely consistent with conceptualisations of vicarious posttraumatic growth. However, what drives change is different. In hospice counsellors, mortality awareness is the driver for change; whereas human cruelty and brutality is the driver in counsellors who work with clients who have experienced sexual violence.Counsellors draw on a number of alternative discourses to make meaning of their experience and this reflects different counselling modalities. The counsellors' stories of change may represent personal growth or reflect western metanarratives linked to a quest for identity.These findings are discussed in relation to the training and supervision of practitioners.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorWilliam West (Supervisor) & Elizabeth Ballinger (Supervisor)


  • counsellors
  • vicarious posttraumatic growth
  • counselling
  • counsellor professional development

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