Drinking from an Empty Glass: A Mixed Methods Analysis of Stress and Self-Care in Counselling Psychology Trainees

  • Claire Carter

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Results from the most recent British Psychological Society (BPS) and New Savoy Partnership (NSP) survey (2020a) suggest the wellbeing of psychological practitioners is below the national average, due in part to the ongoing cost savings, challenging performance targets, and heavy workloads within health and social care. The survey also highlights the important associations between increased practitioner wellbeing and improved patient care, lower rates of sickness absence, and better staff retention. However, with the majority of research in this area focusing on clinical psychologists (Cushway 1992; StaffordBrown & Pakenham, 2012; Castineiras, 2016), limited research exists looking specifically at counselling psychologists, with even less focus on trainee counselling psychologists. Trainee counselling psychologists are at an optimal time in their career to learn wellbeing and selfcare strategies and explore how to manage their stress before entering the professional world (Bauer, 2016).

    The purpose of this research was therefore to undertake a mixed methods exploratory study with U.K. based counselling psychology trainees. The main research question was, ‘What is the experience of counselling psychology trainees in managing self-care whilst training?’. The study had 3 main objectives: (1) to measure trainees’ current self-reported levels of stress, (2) to understand counselling psychology trainees’ experience of using self-care tools in their own lives, and (3) to explore facilitators and barriers to support for trainees if any.

    In Stage 1 of this study, participants were invited to complete a Perceived Stress Scale (10-item) (PSS-10), to measure current levels of stress (n = 45). In Stage 2 (n = 10) of these participants were randomly selected and invited to complete an individual semi-structured interview. Interview transcripts were then analysed using thematic analysis from which 12 codes were constructed. These codes were subsequently developed into a total of 4 main themes; Practising what we preach, Individual differences, Training structure, and Competing demands.

    Findings and conclusions:
    The results showed 17.8% of participants scored low on the PSS-10 indicating no or low levels of overall stress at the time the questionnaire was completed. Meanwhile, 71.1% of the sample scored in the moderate range, and 11.1% of participants scored in the high range. In addition, the analysis of the interview transcripts produced 4 themes including: Practising what we preach, Individual differences, Training structure, and Competing demands. The findings are discussed in terms of their limitations, but also their clinical and theoretical implications. Most notably, adding possible new insights into the experiences of counselling psychologist trainees in managing stress and using self-care whilst training, and by providing recommendations to universities, the British Psychological Society, the Health and Care Professions Council, and others involved in the process of training practitioners.
    Such recommendations include exploring funding for the pathway to ensure parity with other psychologist trainings, allowing trainees to count full days and not just attended client hours on placement, increased focus on the importance of staff role modelling, and more emphasis on the importance of individual differences amongst trainees.
    Date of Award2021
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorRuth Northway (Supervisor) & Shelley Gait (Supervisor)

    Cite this