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Clinical psychologists’ experiences of personal significant distress



Objectives. This research aimed to expand the existing knowledge based on the effect of professional practise by providing qualitative data on the experience of distress among clinical psychologists working in Britain.

Design. Interview data were analysed using interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) – a systematic procedure designed to explore lived experiences which enables interpretations of meaning, cognition, affect, and action. IPA specifically enabled an interpretation of the sense participants made of personal distress as psychologists.

Method. Eleven chartered clinical psychologists (nine females, two males) participated in individual semi-structured interviews about their experiences of distress. Interviews lasted approximately 90 min and were either face-to-face or over the telephone.

Results. Analysis of interview transcripts identified 18 sub-themes organized into five master themes: (1) manifestation of distress, (2) making sense of personal distress, (3) role and affects of others, (4) experiences of help/support, and (5) using experiences of distress.

Conclusions. Distress manifested in various ways including clinical work and attitudes towards work. Personal attributions and meaning of distress mediated how this experience was conceptualized, perceptions/interactions with others, and subsequent help seeking behaviours. Experiences were positively translated into personal/professional behaviours. Implications were considered.

Practitioner Points

  • • The paper presents research relevant to UK clinical psychologists and to trainers and employers of this group.
  • • The data presented provides a useful insight into the perception of a sample of clinical psychologists regarding what it means to be a ‘good psychologist’ and the potential impact on their experience of personal distress and on help seeking behaviour.
  • • The findings have potential relevance for individual psychologists, trainers, and managers of this group in considering how distress might be experienced and dealt with and could suggest specific questions for future research.
  • • It is an example of an IPA study.