Students' stories of self case study while learning cognitive therapy: a New Zealand narrative study

Fraser, Niccy
Wilson, Jan
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Master of Health Science
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Auckland University of Technology

This narrative inquiry study examines the stories told by seven adult students about learning cognitive therapy and how they experienced being both the subject and the writer of their own case study. At the time of being interviewed, some were completing a Bachelor of Counselling or Alcohol and Drug Studies, while others had completed their counsellor training and had employment in their profession. The students completing the Alcohol and Drug Studies are also trainee counsellors with a particular specialisation. All students completed a ten day, introductory course in Cognitive Therapy. There has been limited research exploring the learning experiences of students on cognitive therapy training. There does not appear to be any research on either the use of self case study in Cognitive Therapy education or the student experience of self case study. The purpose of this study was twofold: firstly, to explore the students’ perspectives on what it was like to learn cognitive therapy and secondly, to explore the students’ experiences of completing a case study on themselves. In this study, narrative interviews were used to invite participants to tell their story. The interviews were audio taped and transcribed. The participants’ in depth stories when analysed, produced clear thematic content as well as unique accounts of personal learning journeys. Analysis involved rewriting each interview as a core narrative, structured to show each participant’s position when they began learning, the essence of the story line, their unique voice, the plot direction, the story’s climax, including the impact on their identity and finally, their core message. These narratives are represented by six short pieces of prose and a poem. The narrators and cognitive therapy are central characters in all stories. Thematic content was depicted as steps in a learning process. All core narratives were sent to each participant for checking that it captured their original story and its meaning. The findings were that adult counselling students found brief introductory training courses in Cognitive Therapy to be very effective for enabling them to learn the cognitive therapy model, to refine their cognitive therapy skills and to enhance their own personal development. Self case study has the potential to provide a complex, multi-dimensional learning opportunity facilitating deep learning. Self case study can result in transformative learning and the development of new stories of identity for the writer (and subject) of the case study. Individual student accounts suggest that Cognitive Therapy can be usefully adapted for some Maori and self case study can be a means of strengthening cultural identity. In addition, for some counselling student trainees, the process of doing a self case study may provide a means of working through childhood trauma. The findings provide some preliminary support for including use of self case study within the counselling curriculum. Self case study can provide opportunities for deepening learning about theory and practice, which is all the more potent when related to students’ own selves. Given support, students might be encouraged to complete self case study as a means of gaining significant personal development. Such curriculum changes would require additional expertise on the part of counselling educators. The narratives analysed in this study suggest that particular support may be needed to enable the safe self development of students from ethnic minority groups and also to provide well for those who had experienced childhood trauma. This is recommended as an area for further research. Given that Counselling education has the task of developing and preparing students for the Counselling profession, students’ perspectives on this experience, are an important and relatively underdeveloped area of research. There is a need for further research specifically on students’ learning experiences in Cognitive Therapy. Ongoing research is needed about the use of self case study as a learning opportunity for student learning and personal development.

Student learning experience , Narrative research , Self case studies , Qualitative research , Student perspective
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