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Title: Counselling psychologists' use of self in the therapeutic relationship : the role of narcissism
Author: Stavroulaki, Georgia-Maria
Awarding Body: University of Roehampton
Current Institution: University of Roehampton
Date of Award: 2013
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This study explores the potential implications of narcissism in the way that Counselling Psychologists relate to themselves and their clients. Narcissism is understood as a situation that affects negatively one’s self-knowledge and ability to engage with others. This research examines therapists’ narcissism as it may manifest in their therapeutic practice and in relation to their ability to be aware of and use effectively the interpersonal dynamics of the therapeutic relationship. The researcher also explores how her own narcissism might appear in her relationships with others and her clients. The investigator chose a heuristic qualitative method as she thought that its focus on intrapersonal and interpersonal processes would help bring to light hidden dimensions of therapists’ narcissism in their practice as they were being reflected in the relationship between the therapists and the researcher. An interest in phenomenology and especially in aspects of dialogue and intersubjectivity, as well as the researcher’s commitment to constructionist epistemology shaped the way the methodology and method were implemented. The sample consisted of nine Counselling Psychologists, who participated in open-ended semi-structured interviews. The selection was based on their interest in the subject. The data collection arose from continuous interactions between participant and researcher as a result of the on-going relationship. The research design followed Moustakas’ (1990) phases of heuristic inquiry: initial engagement, immersion, incubation, illumination, explication and creative synthesis. The data were analysed through self-dialogue as well as the interaction between the researcher and the co-researchers. Drawing on hermeneutics helped the researcher unpack complex meanings about the participants’ experience of the phenomenon. The findings of this research suggest that narcissism manifests as a false, superior persona that serves to cover feelings of insignificance stemming from the early frustration of the individual’s needs for love and attention. Practitioners’ narcissistic needs often appear in their clinical work. Male therapists tend to ask for validation and mirroring from their clients and female therapists tend to deny their needs for admiration and approval behind a selfless facade. Nevertheless, both functions can be found in the same person. Narcissistic needs and vulnerabilities are frequently dissociated, denied and projected onto others, as their acknowledgement possibly causes a great amount of shame. By being open to their narcissism and their hidden needs for love and approval practitioners seem to become more able to reflect and relate openly to themselves and their clients. This increased ability can be associated with what Symington (1993) calls a “reversal” of narcissism. This research suggests that through acknowledging their narcissism and reflecting on their deep and hidden emotions practitioners can more easily engage in an honest and mutual exploration with their clients, which can help them to reach a greater knowledge about themselves. The researcher also found that her own narcissistic vulnerabilities, if unacknowledged can stop her from engaging openly and freely in the relationship with clients. The importance of looking at the therapists’ emotional baggage and commitment to achieve greater interpersonal growth, which is important to the field of Counselling Psychology, is emphasised in this study. Future researchers are encouraged to look at the clients’ perceptions of therapists’ ability to acknowledge their narcissistic vulnerabilities in order to attain a wider knowledge about the phenomenon.
Supervisor: Bainbridge, Caroline ; Abrams, Erik Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Psych.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Psycotherapy ; Narcissism ; counselling psychology