Being in the Therapeutic Encounter: A Descriptive Phenomenological Investigation of Novice Therapist Presence
Colosimo, Kenneth Andrew
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This study investigated the phenomenon of therapeuticpresencefrom the vantage point ofnovicetherapistsearly in their clinical training.Although existential-humanistic philosophy and various approaches to psychotherapyhave long recognizedthe centrality ofpresenceto the human conditionand to the therapeutic situation,empiricalresearchon this topic has only recently emerged. The purpose of this project was to gain a deeper appreciation of this phenomenon by using a method novel to this topic - the descriptive phenomenological-psychological research method articulated by Giorgi. Five novice therapists participated in qualitative interviews related to their experience of being present during therapy, and these descriptions were systematically analyzed using Giorgis phenomenological method. Results are presented in the form of a general psychological structure of the phenomenon of presence, comprised of seven distinct albeit interrelated constituents: (1) the novice therapist faces an unshakable responsibility to be present when interacting with the client, with presence felt as a necessary condition of their work; (2) presence means the novice therapist is closely aligned with a primary zone of the clinical interaction (PZI); (3) the duration of dwelling in the primary zone, together with heightened salience of the moment, affords deeper contact with the clients world (intersubjective depth, intimacy); (4) certain conditions of the therapist function like centripetal forces of presence to strengthen/energize the therapists contact in the PZI; (5) there is a potential background extraneous zone to the therapeutic interaction comprised of conditions that threaten to steal away presence; (6) the novice therapist oscillates between states of relative presence and non-presence throughout the session; and (7) the novice therapist uses various methods of recalibration to return to good alignment with the PZI. The paper concludes with a discussion of these constituents relative to certain extent models of therapeutic presence and other related concepts, as well as offers suggestions for future clinical training and psychotherapy research.