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Objectives. Psychotherapy as an appropriate treatment for clients in despair is an important area of inquiry, particularly given its problematic nature in the therapy and the resulting impact on the therapeutic relationship. This study aimed to explore how psychotherapists experience working with a client in despair through a phenomenological investigation.

Design. A phenomenological epistemology and methodology was adopted as the study was focused on understanding the phenomenon in terms of the participant's meanings of the lived situation.

Method. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight accredited psychotherapists who had worked with clients in despair. The interviews were transcribed and analysed using the method of Empirical Phenomenological Analysis (EPA).

Results. Four main themes emerged from the analysis: Psychotherapist's experience of client's despair, Evocation in the psychotherapist, Therapeutic ways of responding, and Supporting the psychotherapist.

Conclusions. The phenomenological findings inform and support the idea of a client's despair as something that challenges the psychotherapist personally and professionally. With implications for practice, the findings also suggest that in order to prevent the despair from encompassing the psychotherapist, they must locate a therapeutic balance; one that allows them to be with the client's despair, whilst allowing a certain degree of distance from the despair which may enable the psychotherapist to consider hope and to see the client's situation from different perspectives.

Practitioner Points

  • • 
    Client's despair challenges the psychotherapist personally and professionally.
  • • 
    In order to prevent the despair from encompassing the psychotherapist, they must locate a therapeutic balance which allows them to be with the client's despair, whilst allowing a certain degree of distance from the despair.
  • • 
    This balance may enable the psychotherapist to consider hope and to see the client's situation from different perspectives.