27th Annual BACP Research Conference

Promoting collaboration in research, policy and practice

The 2021 BACP Research Conference took place on 15 May with co-hosts The University of Salford. But don’t worry if you missed it, you can catch up on demand until August!

For 26 years, our research conference has been a place where international researchers and practitioners come together to exchange ideas on important research findings, presented in open discussion with constructive critical debate and helpful dialogue. It fosters a climate where all are welcome to share in both the learning and social experience.

Our on-demand service includes all the live event presentations and Q&As, plus 44 additional presentations and poster exhibition.

Member interview - Gill Harvey

Tell us about your experience of undertaking research

My first experience of carrying out research took place many years ago when I was required to undertake a small-scale quantitative, questionnaire-based research project as part of a BA (Hons) degree in Psychology and Social Policy. That experience left me with the distinct impression that statistics and mathematical calculations were mandatory to all research and therefore it was not for me. Consequently, I steered clear of anything linked to formal research for many years until I discovered that undertaking a small-scale qualitative research study was a mandatory part of the Masters’ degree in Relational Counselling and Psychotherapy I was undertaking.

Although I found words like epistemology and phenomenology almost incomprehensible at that time, the discovery of qualitative research was revelatory and I enjoyed the process involved in bringing my research project entitled: ‘An exploration of Counsellors’ lived experiences of the impact of client spirituality when bereavement is the presenting issue’, to fruition. My appetite for research had been whetted and within a few weeks of completing my Masters’ degree in July 2017 I found myself googling PhD and Doctoral programmes.

I am now in my fourth year of the Doctorate in Psychotherapy programme at the Metanoia Institute/Middlesex University with my research project being entitled: ‘A Narrative Exploration into Counsellors’ experiences of the influence of a fundamentalist religious upbringing on mental health and wellbeing in adulthood’. This small-scale qualitative study has combined relational-centred reflexivity with the collaborative narrative approach, the focus being on hearing, gathering and representing the unique stories of counsellors and some of their clients (confidentiality and anonymity being protected), in terms of the possible influence of growing up in a religious environment, on mental health and wellbeing.

The aims and objectives of this research have been firstly to enable co-researchers to tell their and/or their clients’ stories, to psycho-educate professionals to recognise and understand these matters when they present and finally to add to the sparse literature on this largely hidden topic, particularly within the UK. I am hugely indebted to my co-researchers who have each shared theirs and their clients’ stories and generously dedicated a substantial amount of time to the research process.

Did you face any specific challenges and how did you overcome them? 

To uphold the ‘procedural trustworthiness’ (Stiles, 1993:602) of this research study, it was crucial to carry out stakeholder analyses and risk assessments and obtain ethical consent from the Metanoia Institute/Middlesex University. In addition, it has also been vital to recognise some specific challenges, for example that qualitative research can be emotional in nature (Davis, 2001), religion and mental health can be a tough topic to research (Blazer, 2009) and additionally to recognise that while ‘qualitative researchers are inescapably part of what is being researched’ (Finlay, 2016:6), being an ‘insider researcher’ can lead to blind spots, prejudices and biases.

Throughout the research process therefore my own self-care in terms of protecting physical safety, monitoring psychological, emotional and physical health, (Dickson-Swift et al, 2009) has been of paramount importance specifically in terms of pacing the analysis process and using professional support (including my Academic Advisor, Academic Consultant, critical friends and a spiritual director) in order to adhere to the need for self-respect (BACP, 2018:11). The challenge of the potential bias and prejudice of being an ‘insider’ researcher has additionally been overcome through the choice of methodology as participants have been co-researchers who have fully engaged during each part of the process including the analysis stage. I have also been mindful of my ‘duty of care’ towards my co-researchers and I am hugely indebted to each one for their commitment and considerable time they have dedicated to the process.

Finally, although I hoped that telling their stories might be beneficial to co-researchers, possibly beyond the study, I was also aware that talking about sensitive issues might have triggered unexpected emotions and, if needed, up to three sessions with their chosen therapist was offered to the co-researchers free of charge for a three month period following conclusion of the interview process.

Did you enjoy the process? Would you continue to undertake further research and why?

I have thoroughly enjoyed this research process and hearing co-researchers’ stories as well as those of some of their clients has been an enormous privilege. I am also grateful that the first round of unstructured interviews and some interpretative interviews were able to take place face-to-face pre-COVID-19 and for modern technology which has facilitated the remainder of the follow-up interviews to take place online via a secure platform.

Although I don’t currently have any plans to undertake further research I am sure that should further opportunities present themselves, once my doctorate is complete, then I have been ‘bitten by the research bug’ and would find it very hard to resist the chance to undertake further research and gain further knowledge.

Has your research had an impact on your practice? If so, how has your practice changed as a result?

What I have realised is that as a counsellor and psychotherapist I have been actively engaged in research for many years without consciously realising it as curiosity is vital to practice. For example, when a client has presented with an issue that is not too familiar then it has been important to become more informed so that I can work in the client’s best interests.

In terms of the impact on my practice from the doctoral research findings, I believe that I am now much more equipped to work with clients presenting with religious injury and spiritual abuse as well as those for whom faith is an integral part of their lives and maybe brings comfort or resilience in challenging times, in a more knowledgeable and ethical way. I am also in the process of developing a workshop based on my co-researcher’s stories which aims to psycho-educate counsellors, psychotherapists, and other professionals to recognise the importance of such matters when they present in the room. It was exciting to deliver the pilot version of the workshop to the counsellors within a local counselling agency recently and I hope to develop the workshop further and enable it to become more widely available in due course.

Would you recommend that other practitioners also  undertake or engage with research?

Yes absolutely. Research is vital to practice and any one of us as practitioners are probably already engaged in research and can broaden this out to embrace a more formal, academic, and ethical approach and process. After all, I firmly believe that we don’t need to be special or clever to engage in research but simply hold openness, curiosity and a willingness to be involved in a process which in turn can impact the profession at macro level as well as at the micro level i.e. the daily interactions with clients, in a more informed way.

What advice you would give to practitioners who are looking to embark on research for the first time?

Firstly, identify a topic for which you have the drive, passion, and enthusiasm so that you do not give up when the research process gets tough. The subject chosen commonly resonates with a researcher’s life story, but this does not necessarily have to be the case. Secondly, identify the philosophical positions you hold about what can be known (ontology) and how it can be known (epistemology) (Etherington, 2016:87) as this will inform your choice of methodology and additionally ensure that the topic you chose to research and your methodological choices fit well. Finally, go for it – being a researcher is a privilege but is also a hugely enjoyable process and thankfully for me, it doesn’t have to include mathematics and statistics!


British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (2018) Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions. Lutterworth: BACP.
Blazer, D. G. (2009) Religion, Spirituality, and Mental Health: What We Know and Why This Is a Tough Topic to Research. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. 54(5) pp.281-291.
Davis. H. (2001) The management of self: practical and emotional implications of ethnographic work in a public hospital setting. In: Gilbert, K. R. (ed). The Emotional Nature of Qualitative Research. New York: CRC Press. pp.37-62.
Etherington, K. (2016) Personal experience and critical reflexivity in counselling and psychotherapy research. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research. 17(2) pp.85-94.
Finlay, L. (2016) Being a therapist-researcher doing relational-reflexive research. the psychotherapist. 62 pp.6-7.
Stiles, W. B. (1993) Quality Control in Qualitative Research. Clinical Psychology Review. 13 pp.593-618.

New research

Person-centred experiential therapy compared with CBT in IAPT

Results from the PRaCTICED trial, the first trial to directly compare person-centred therapy (PCET) with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), have been published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

The randomised control trial was led by a research group at the University of Sheffield and funded by BACP. Its results strengthen the evidence base for the effectiveness of counselling as we continue to lobby the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to recommend a wider choice of talking therapies for mental health conditions. It also gives stronger evidence for NICE to recommend PCET as a frontline intervention for patients accessing IAPT services in England, increasing the opportunities for counsellors to work within the NHS to deliver these services.

Study highlights

  • Due to high demand for psychological therapy and patient choice, continued investment for training and delivering person-centred therapy will improve short-term outcomes
  • PCET may be inferior to CBT following 12 months, particularly among individuals presenting severe depression

What support do therapists need to do research?

A review of studies into how therapists experience research by S Bager-Charleson and A G McBeath focuses on how psychotherapists and counselling psychologists can progress as confident researchers as well as practitioners.

The study was conducted under the Therapists as Research Practitioners (TRP) research group, which hopes that providing learning and professional development opportunities will enhance research training for counsellors, psychotherapists and counselling psychologists.

Study highlights

  • The study identifies experiences and reflections of research engagement, including personal motivations and expectations, through a ‘hybrid meta-synthesis’
  • Therapists experienced shame, isolation and poor access to opportunities
  • A pilot study explored research supervision for therapists as part of supporting the development for research-interested practitioners
  • Supervisees reported empathy was as important as research experience when receiving constructive supervision

BACP research resources

CPR provides early view

Enhance your knowledge and practice with access to the very latest evidence-based research

Exclusively for BACP members, Counselling and Psychotherapy Research (CPR) provides access to original articles, perspectives and reviews before they are published in the journal. 

Current early view titles include: 

McCabe & Day (2021) Counsellors’ experiences of the use of mindfulness in the treatment of depression and anxiety: an interpretative phenomenological analysis.

Smith and Gillon (2021) Therapists’ experiences of providing online counselling: a qualitative study.

Dhesi et al. (2021) Helpful and unhelp elements of synchronous text-based therapy: a thematic analysis.

Counsellors in solidarity: Centering personal development within a more just social environment

Joint special virtual issue of Journal of Counseling & Development and CPR

Enjoy a free collection of papers specially selected by the editors as a message of solidarity for vulnerable and marginalised client groups. Highlighting the value of empowering individuals, the selected papers share global knowledge from studies that position counselling and psychotherapy within a broad social justice framework.

Titles include:

  • Best practices for counseling clients experiencing poverty
  • Social justice competencies for counselling and psychotherapy
  • An exploration of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic counsellors’ experiences of working with White clients
  • The counseling experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming clients

Read Counsellors in solidarity