Smith, Vicki (2021) Philosophy in practice: an exploration of the relationship between existential philosophy and the practice of existential therapy. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This research project aims to explore how existential therapists, trainees in the orientation and their trainers perceive the relationship between existential philosophy and therapeutic practice. More specifically the focus is to: explore how participants draw on existential philosophy in their therapeutic practice; to gain insight into what they see as the value of existential philosophy for informing training and practice and what they regard as some of the challenges of using and learning to use existential philosophy in practice.

The research comprised a study in two parts with the first part consisting of five interviews with experienced existential therapists and the second involving interviews with six trainees and newly qualified existential therapists and two of their trainers. In keeping with a qualitative methodology, all interviews were analysed using thematic analysis (Braun &Clarke, 2006).The first part of the study provides an insight into the perceived theory/practice relationship in existential therapeutic practice, whilst the second explores this relationship at the point of training when issues around establishing and understanding the relationship are foregrounded.

The key findings include a challenge to the traditional narrative of theory and practice as separate entities existing in a dualistic paradigm. Instead, existential ideas were seen to form an existential identity and way of being which is embodied by the therapists and conveyed via the therapeutic relationship, as opposed to drawing on theory in practice. Perhaps as a result of this, many participants appeared to have a rather paradoxical relationship with theory in that they had a strong commitment to what they regarded as the radical philosophical ideals of existential therapy alongside an ambivalence towards ‘using’ theoretical concepts in therapeutic practice. At the same time, many appeared to employ theoretical frameworks and concepts in more conventional ways, which sometimes conflicted with professed existential philosophical ideals. A key perceived value of the approach was the significant challenge involved in both training in, and practising, this therapeutic orientation as it involves in-depth personal change; this perceived value, at times, implied the perceived superiority of the approach which was rarely acknowledged by the participants.

Implications for therapy training are various and will be discussed in chapter 9.

FINAL THESIS - Smith, Vicki.pdf - Accepted Version
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