The role of the counsellor trainer: The trainer perspective

  • Elizabeth Ballinger

Student thesis: Phd


This research sets out to explore how counsellor trainers understand and experience their role in the context of early twenty-first century Britain. The training sector is facing significant pressures connected with the shifting context for counselling and changes within the educational sector itself. These are occurring against a wider backdrop of economic recession and a lack of published research into rank-and-file trainer experiences and viewpoints. The methodology of choice is Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), a qualitative approach which focuses on the production of rich individual accounts of subjective experience. Sixteen trainers were recruited from across Great Britain via purposeful convenience sampling using the professional networks of the researcher, herself a trainer. The trainers were individually interviewed using a semi-structured interview schedule. The result is four separate but interconnected studies of the experiencing and understanding of the role on the part of trainers within programmes based on person-centred, integrative, psychodynamic and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) approaches. The four studies are analysed separately and contextualised within the literature. Tentative overall themes are then drawn out and implications discussed. The findings highlight the multifaceted and demanding nature of the training role. A commonality and difference in understanding of the role is evident across the studies. Discernible differences focus primarily on the relational nature of the role and the centrality accorded to critical thinking and the evidence-base. There are also different levels of identification and reconciliation expressed in relation to professionalising processes.A dominant finding in terms of the experience of the role is its high-reward and high-stress nature. Across all four studies, there is an identifiable vulnerability to substantial levels of stress and a developed potential for burnout. Workload pressures, the emotional demands of the role, a limited sense of autonomy and a perceived lack of appropriate support are among some of the major factors cited. In parallel trainers report a high level of reward and vocational commitment. The experience of the role's rewards and challenges is a dynamic one, the balance shifting in the longer or shorter term. The context of the work carries significance with trainers in the private sector reporting substantially less stress. On a wider note, the shifting professional, educational and economic contexts are perceived as adding a new note of threat and uncertainty and leading some trainers to question their vocational commitment. The continuing divisions amongst differing theoretical schools are evident as well as a continued sense of non-belonging within institutional contexts. The findings are not presented as generalisable truths but as a contribution to the development of a case-based context-dependent understanding, regarded as important to effective practitioner development.
Date of Award31 Dec 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorWilliam West (Supervisor) & Terry Hanley (Supervisor)


  • counsellor training trainers experience education counselor

Cite this