Colleen Swinden presents on her research How bereavement counsellors experience returning to therapeutic work after the death of their parent

There has been increased interest in the impact of external events on counsellors, however, surprisingly little written on the experience of counsellor bereavement. The aim of this qualitative study was to explore this under-researched area of how the death of a parent affects therapists working with bereaved clients.

Research outline

Design/Methodology: Interviews were conducted with four bereaved counsellors; an appropriate sample size for the methodology. Counsellors reflected on their bereavement and its impact on their work. Data were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA).

Results/Findings: Five major themes emerged; parents’ age and participants secure attachment mitigated the distress they experienced and assisted their returning to work; prior experience of death of a loved one did not ameliorate the effects of the death; the counsellors disclosed their loss to one or more clients and the majority believed the disclosure of personal grief benefited their therapeutic relationships and was a potentially positive therapeutic technique; the experience of bereavement heightened the participants’ ability to empathise with their clients’ loss, resulting in greater understanding and connection. A significant concern that participants felt was that they had insufficient guidance regarding fitness to practice. 

Research Limitations: Participant self-selection may have introduced an element of bias to the results. The sample size was not balanced in terms of gender, ethnicity or social class. Researcher subjectivity as a bereaved counsellor may also have influenced the interpretation of data. This was managed initially by not disclosing this information to participants. Bracketing was used during interviewing, and during analysis, a close connection to the emergent themes from participants was maintained.

Conclusions/Implications: These findings support existing literature and also reveal potential gaps in grief and loss training for counsellors and supervisors. A particular training issue for supervisors might be identifying and discussing fitness to practice issues with supervisees. There are also implications for supervisors and counsellors in terms of counsellor self-care and the use of self-disclosure in therapy. Suggested further research is to explore the use of bracketing and the use of counsellor self-disclosure in greater depth.

Presenter profile

Colleen Swinden is a doctoral student on the DProf in Counselling and Psychotherapy and Psychological Trauma at the University of Chester.

Further information

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Presentation slides

How bereavement counsellors experience returning to therapeutic work after the death of their parent (ppt 420KB)

How bereavement counsellors experience returning to therapeutic work after the death of their parent (pdf 340KB)

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