Serious Illness in the Psychotherapist: Denial, Disclosure and the Therapeutic Relationship: A Review of the Literature

Mitchell, Christopher D.
Puls, Brigitte
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Master of Health Science
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Auckland University of Technology

The objective was to examine and discuss, by means of a systematic literature review, the experience of serious illness in the psychotherapist and its implications for the therapeutic relationship. Consistent with evidence-based practice in the allied health professions, the study admitted quantitative, qualitative and illustrative evidence and applied a rigorous systematic research methodology. The research showed that, there was a division between those authors who attempted to maintain a neutral and anonymous stance, in respect of their serious illness, in order to minimise its impact upon the therapeutic process, and those who allowed disclosure of and feelings about their serious illness, to be used as a therapeutic tool. The former adhered to a non-relational understanding of psychotherapeutic healing, whilst the latter placed the therapeutic relationship at the heart of this process. The research revealed a paucity in the literature and the recommendation is, that further research be undertaken, particularly in relation to intersubjective approaches to the therapeutic relationship in the face of serious illness, and to the phenomenon of mental illness in the therapist.

Psychotherapists -- Health and hygiene , Psychotherapist and patient
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