The Alchemy of Love: Recent Graduates’ Lived Experiences of Psychotherapy Training: A Hermeneutic Study
Most of the research related to psychotherapy is about modality, treatments and therapeutic outcomes. There is little research on the psychotherapists themselves; their subjective experiences, their preparation or personal development. Personal growth, which leads to a developmental level permitting self-reflection and relational ability, is considered by the psychotherapy profession to be an important aspect of the psychotherapist's education. This hermeneutic study focuses on students' experience of personal growth during a formal psychotherapy educational programme. The core of the thesis is the presentation of the students' lived experience during training. Recent graduates of psychotherapy programmes were interviewed and their accounts include the process of personal growth, in what ways the developmental journey was felt to be supportive and containing, ways graduates feel changed, the impact on their lives during and after the training, and the meanings they ascribe to the experience. The particular growth experiences of Maori graduates are to some degree explored, as are the experiences of psychotherapy teachers who facilitate personal development. Themes emerged from data analysis; personal growth did happen, was felt to be positive, and took place as a journey. The growth process was turbulent, painful, yet resulted in positive outcomes for the graduates. Love and relationship were experienced as the most significant catalyst in promoting growth towards key outcomes. It was felt that bicultural learning activities enhanced and supported growth for Maori and non-Maori. The nature and complexity of love is discussed; including the place of love in personal change, psychotherapy and psychotherapy training. The discomfort commonly experienced in the profession around describing the therapeutic relationship as one involving love is highlighted. Possible reasons are given for this, for not using the word love in psychotherapy. Implications for psychotherapy education arising from the research are presented; with questions about, and recommendations for, facilitating personal growth, and the utilisation of love in a more open and conscious manner as a part of psychotherapy training. Currently most preparation of psychotherapists occurs in mainstream academic institutions, with a movement in the profession towards more formal qualifications. It is a challenge for educators and students alike to continue to include in traditional academic structures and processes what is felt to be the essence of psychotherapy; love and relationship, the practice of which requires high levels of personal development.