Should Psychotherapy Students Undergo Personal Therapy?

New research examines the downsides and benefits of personal therapy.

Posted Jun 29, 2018

Whether psychotherapists should engage in mandatory personal therapy during their training is a highly contentious issue. 

Some would argue that it is unnecessary. When you go to the doctor you don’t expect that the doctor has had to have their leg broken and set in plaster in order to treat your broken leg. But others would say that it is absolutely essential if you are to be a psychotherapist that you have sat in the other chair and had the experience of being a client.

Within the psychological professions the debate is important because on many training courses it is mandatory that students undergo personal therapy. This is expensive and time consuming. So if it doesn’t make a difference why do it?

Recent published research from the University of Nottingham has reviewed the evidence from all the published qualitative studies on this topic since 2001, revealing that those who have undergone mandatory personal therapy have sometimes reported downsides, for example, that they felt it was an abuse of power to make them have personal therapy. But for others there were many positive benefits of personal and professional development.

What the findings suggested most strongly was that mandatory personal therapy offered a source of productive experiential learning. Personal therapy helps the students learn about themselves, to become more able to reflect honestly on themselves, be more empathic with others, able to understand their feelings, and make sense of how the theory they are learning relates to practice.

Personal therapy is not part of the training because the student needs fixed in some way or because there is something wrong with them. Personal therapy needs to be seen instead as simply another vehicle for learning about oneself and becoming a psychotherapist. 

This new research helps us to answer the question of whether students should undergo personal therapy.  It would seem to say that if the therapy is used to help students learn then yes it can be very helpful. 

But as the authors of the report conclude, the new question to ask is whether personal therapy is a more or less effective way in achieving the educational objectives of a training program than other learning approaches?

References

Murphy, D., Irfan, N., Barnett, H., Castledine, E., & Enescu, L. (2018). A systematic review and meta‐synthesis of qualitative research into mandatory personal psychotherapy during training. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 18(2), 199-214.