Psychological Therapists’ Experiences of the Death of a Parent in Childhood
Research examining psychological therapists’ personal experiences of bereavement is limited, despite existing research and anecdotal accounts indicating its profound impact on the self and therapeutic practice. Situated in the context of existing literature on wounded healers and the use of self in therapy, the aim of this qualitative study was to examine the experiences of psychological therapists who experienced the death of a parent in childhood. Seven psychological therapists from a range of professions and therapeutic modalities participated in semi-structured interviews exploring how this experience impacted them personally and professionally, in their therapeutic work with clients. Using interpretative phenomenological analysis, three master themes emerged: A loss beyond words; Navigating in a strange landscape; and Something lost, something gained. These themes reflected how the impact of the parent dying was experienced throughout participants’ lives, from childhood through to adulthood, and into their psychotherapeutic practice. Areas of convergence and divergence between these findings and previous theory and research are discussed, particularly with respect to literature on grieving and the self of the therapist. Implications for therapeutic practice, supervision, and training are highlighted, including the importance of self-reflection and supervision in facilitating the use of self, and the value of therapeutic training incorporating self-of-the-therapist work.
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