Research bites

A selection of recently published articles from BACP’s Counselling and Psychotherapy Research journal

Social media and therapists

This systematic review explored the ethical dilemmas encountered by therapists who use social media (SM). Following a thematic analysis of 14 studies, three themes were identified. The first theme of ‘therapist searches risking the therapeutic relationship’ explores subthemes of ‘loss of trust’ and ‘power imbalances’ which occur when therapists search SM for client profiles. The theme of ‘therapist defensiveness in response to client searches’ explores how therapists protect themselves using privacy settings, and the ethical issues that emerge if a client seeks out information about their therapist online that a therapist purposely chose not to self-disclose in session. The final theme of ‘societal normalisation of SM’ explores the various issues associated with the pervasiveness of SM in modern life including, for example, how a therapist should respond if they saw their client at risk online. The authors conclude that ethical guidelines are required to support therapists with various ethical dilemmas online. 

Read more: White E, Hanley T. Current ethical dilemmas experienced by therapists who use social media: a systematic.

Working in English as a second language 

This research study explored the experiences of bilingual therapists who are working in English as a second language with native-speaking English clients. Previous research shows that the therapeutic relationship is inherently unbalanced, with the therapist being in a position of power. The current research focused on how disclosing bilingualism can lead to a power shift when the client is perceived as the more competent native speaker. Interviews with therapists identified three key themes. First, therapists often experienced linguistic difference as a vulnerability that may result in a power struggle. Second, using linguistic difference as a therapeutic tool was also experienced by some therapists as helpful to facilitate an alliance and a sense of equality with clients. Finally, therapists felt that linguistic difference and diversity often remained unspoken and not recognised during training and supervision. It also remained unspoken between them and their clients.

Read more: Medlicott C, Tomicsne-Wagner S, Griffo F. M(other) tongue: an exploration of the impact on power dynamics for the therapist working in English as a second language.

Trainees’ personal relationships 

This research explored counsellors’ experiences of changes in their personal relationships over the course of their training. The research findings challenge the myth of ‘the divorce course’ as participants in the study reported that while they did experience ruptures in their interpersonal relationships during early stages of their training, healing, reorientation and boundary setting followed. Participants also reported that challenging group experiences during training not only prepared the counsellors for client work but also supported them in becoming more aware of their own needs within their personal relationships. Implications for new and current trainees are discussed. 

Read more: Daldorph A, Hill S. The perceived impact of counselling training on students’ personal relationships.

In the spotlight

'The use of AI in therapy is going to pose a lot of new questions for the counselling professions' 

Dr Terry Hanley is a Professor of Counselling Psychology at the University of Manchester and visiting Professor at York St John University. He is co-editor of the fourth and fifth editions of SAGE’s flagship textbook The SAGE Handbook of Counselling and Psychotherapy (most recently with Laura Winter), a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and Advance HE, and a HCPC registered practitioner psychologist (counselling). He has worked as a therapist with a variety of third sector organisations and as a consultant on the development of online therapies for organisations such as Kooth and BACP. He talks to us about his research focusing on online approaches to therapy. 

Can you tell us about your research? For the past few decades I’ve been involved in researching the development of online therapies, mainly with young people and young adults. 

What motivated you to undertake this research? My motivation for getting into this area was that I didn’t understand it enough. My therapy training was all about sitting in the same physical space with clients and developing deep relationships with them. Then a service I worked for got funding to work online with young people. I wasn’t sure this was actually possible, at least in a meaningful way, and wanted to know more about the world that we were entering into.

What are the practice implications of your research? I hope that my research has played a part in dispelling the idea that therapy cannot happen online, although the pandemic did a better job of that than I did, and I hope it helps to understand some of the ways that it is different from in-person work. It has also highlighted that we need to keep abreast of researching new technologies, as we never know what might happen in the world or predict the ways that people will choose to seek support in the future. With that in mind, virtual and augmented realities are now growing in their use therapeutically, and the use of AI in therapy is going to pose a lot of new questions for the counselling professions. I hope that there will be individuals with enough curiosity in these areas to help inform what therapy is going to look like in the future.  

In each issue a practitioner, postgraduate student or academic will tell us about how their research may inform therapeutic practice.