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Counselling and psychotherapy

Talking therapies have been recognised practices promoting human health and wellbeing for well over a century. However, researching these special human encounters has also proved dilemmatic and challenging throughout this time. The ‘Counselling and psychotherapy’ theme critically addresses these issues, both theoretically, historically, and by way of empirical research. In particular, the theme covers:

  • Outcome research on therapies: which therapies work, for what concerns and for whom?
  • Process research on therapies: what happens during therapeutic sessions and how can this be related to various outcomes?
  • Developing the theory and practice of counselling and psychotherapy, including therapy with specific populations (e.g. LGBTQ)
  • Forms and histories of talking therapies: what modes of therapeutic approaches have historically been developed to deal with human distress?
  • Therapeutic processes outside the consulting room: what can we learn from counselling and psychotherapy regarding personal, social or even political phenomena manifesting in the world?

Those contributing to the theme also engage in impact and public engagement activities, such as the highly successful open courses How to do counselling online: A coronavirus primer (with the BACP) and Working with infidelity (endorsed by Relate), as well as this short animation for the public The Therapy Relationship: Key Ideas in Therapy 1/3.

Also, as qualified and active practitioners members retain an active presence in major membership-bodies of the field, such as the Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice (AFT), the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), the British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC), the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), the Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR), and the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).

Projects within the theme

Clients’ experiences of preference accommodation in psychotherapy (Gina Di Malta)

This project is a Consensual Qualitative Research (CQR) of clients’ experiences of preference accommodation in psychotherapy. CQR is a well-established and rigorous inductive psychotherapy method, in which researchers work collaboratively to achieve consensus in data analysis. Thus, results emerge from the data without researchers imposing pre-conceived theories on those data. We conducted interviews with 13 clients who have participated in a programme of pluralistic therapy. Data were analysed by an international team using CQR.

Development and validation of the refined Cooper-Norcross Inventory of Preferences (C-NIPII) (Gina Di Malta)

The CNIP is a psychotherapy preference tool that can be used at assessment and during treatment. It is an updated version of the Therapy Preference Form, with four multi-item scales to identify clients’ preferences on Therapist Directiveness (TD), Emotional Intensity (EI), Past Orientation (PO), and Warm Support (WS). The inventory, and its scales, have been used in numerous practice settings in the UK, US, and has been translated and used in several European countries. Preliminary evidence indicates that the CNIP is of value to practitioners and clients. However, in research terms, the scales are low on internal reliability (Cronbach’s alpha), with some of the scales hovering around the .5 to .6 mark, well below the .7 acceptable limit. The aim of the project is to develop an improved CNIP-II measure.

Online Therapy (Naomi Moller and Andreas Vossler)

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an overnight shift to online delivery of counselling and psychotherapy globally. Yet there is a lack of both research and training in this area. Ongoing work in this area includes a project with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) to examine the experiences and perceptions of practitioners.

Working with infidelity (Naomi Moller and Andreas Vossler)

The project has aimed at practitioners as well as the general public in providing an understanding of contemporary forms of infidelity, with a special regard to online forms. The projects includes a CPD course for practitioners, Working with Infidelity (2020), that has been endorsed by Relate, the national relationship counselling charity, and the development of the Online affairs: Information for the public and practitioners website with information for public and practitioners developed with members of the Relationship Alliance that is hosted on the website of couple counselling organization Tavistock Relationships. It also featured a short film series made for the public: #ISPY.

Existential therapy (Darren Langdridge)

This project has been concerned with developing existential therapeutic practice (e.g. around dream analysis) and improving therapeutic practice with sexual and gender diverse clients (LGBTQ) more generally. This is theoretical rather than empirical in the main. See e.g.:

Langdridge, D. (2018). Existential dream analysis. In S. du Plock (Ed.) Case Studies in Existential Therapy: Translating Theory into Practice. Monmouth, UK: PCCS Books [pp. 56-70].

Langdridge, D. (2014). Gay affirmative therapy: recognizing the power of the social world. In M. Milton (ed.) Sexuality: Existential Perspectives. Ross on Wye: PCCS Books. [pp. 160-173, ISBN: 9781906254704]

Langdridge, D. (2012). Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy. London: Sage. [ISBN: 1849207690, 176 pages]

Langdridge, D. (2007). Gay affirmative therapy: A theoretical framework and defence. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, 11(1/2), 27-43.

Psychoanalytic processes (David Kaposi)

This project interrogates the possibilities and limits of understanding the processes of psychoanalysis/psychotherapy with the methods of the empirical sciences; as well as processes of social or societal nature with the findings arising from the clinical encounter. Of particular interest are the historical dividing lines within (British) psychoanalysis, especially around conceptual dyads such as holding and interpretation; external reality and transference; trauma and phantasy.

Development and validation of the Measure Assessment form (Gina Di Malta)

The MAF is a short psychometric measure that can be used to assess the acceptability of routine psychotherapy measures on a single dimension: helpfulness. Outcome measures are widely used in psychotherapy research and practice (e.g., Roth & Fonagy, 1996). We propose to develop and validate a first brief measure of helpfulness of using psychotherapy forms. We will compare the helpfulness, to clients, of various therapy forms, and triangulate findings with a qualitative exploration into clients’ feedback of using these forms.

Qualitative Story Completion Method (Naomi Moller)

The method-based project has been ongoing for a number of years, leading to methodology papers related to it for a number of years. Recent work includes a book chapter on the value of story completion as a method for researching experience of COVID-19 and a journal paper on the potential of SC for psychotherapy research. 

Relational Depth and wellbeing in non-professional relationships (Gina Di Malta)

The Relational Depth Frequency Scale is a short self-report measure for the counselling and psychotherapy construct of relational depth—that is, a state of profound contact and engagement between a therapist and client in which both are genuine and mutually experiencing high levels of empathy and positive regard (RDFS, Di Malta, Evans, Cooper, 2019). There is initial evidence that relational depth is associated with psychological growth in therapy. In the current project, we are looking to validate the RDFS for relationships outside of the psychotherapeutic encounter and look at association with psychological wellbeing over time. Data already collected as part of this project suggests that relational depth outside of therapy is a reliable measure and is moderately associated with subjective wellbeing and relationship satisfaction.

Internet Infidelity: Creating partnerships (Andreas Vossler and Naomi Moller)

Funded through an ESRC Impact Acceleration Award this project collaborated with Tavistock Relationships and other couple counselling organisations in the UK to develop a programme of knowledge exchange activities about internet infidelity.

The project included the development of an extensive website with research-based information to improve therapeutic practice (hosted on the Tavistock Relationship website

The research on internet infidelity also features in core psychology teaching and in an OpenLearn video drama I-Spy: Internet infidelity and its impact on couple relationships.