Therapists' Experiences of Shame: An Heuristic Study
Shame is a crucial issue frequently overlooked in the therapeutic context because it has many hiding places and inevitably reverberates with experiences of shame in the therapist. Therapists can be vulnerable to shame from multiple sources and without awareness of the activation of their shame, therapists risk reacting in ways that are not therapeutic. This, in turn, is likely to impact the therapeutic relationship and outcomes. The concealment and neglect of the therapist's shame is reflected in a lack of attention to this aspect of the subject in the literature.
Using heuristic methodology five psychotherapists were interviewed to elucidate their experiences of shame. Consistent with heuristic methodology and method there was in-depth analysis of the researcher's experience of the phenomenon.
Shame is portrayed as striking at the core of the self and causing physiological, behavioural, emotional, and cognitive reactions which involve one's entire being. In all its forms, shame is considered relational. Four interwoven themes were identified: second hand shame, shame with colleagues, being different, and not being good enough. The findings highlighted the importance of empathic relationships with supervisors and colleagues in mitigating the debilitating effects of shame. Building shame resilience in therapists is underscored as critical in tolerating the vulnerability in meeting clients and colleagues in powerful affective states of being shamed and shaming. Therapists are encouraged to face into experiences of shame in themselves and with their clients, and to see these experiences as valuable opportunities for growth.