1. Research Aims and Objectives The aim of this small scale qualitative research is to explore the impact of the personal development element of counsellor training and how this affects the student counsellors significant relationships. The focus will be on, though not solely, student counsellors relationships with partners. However, reference will be made to other types of relationships. This aim will be achieved via semi-structured interviews examining the specific concepts of personal development, self-awareness, changes in personal relationships, as well as a full comprehensive exploration of student responsibilities in significant relationships. The data will be analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) (Smith, 2003), which will provide the lived experiences of participants.
2. Rationale The rationale for conducting this research is that personal development and self-awareness are key elements of counsellor training programmes designed to promote the trainees personal and professional development. Counsellor training has had both a positive and negative impact on many trainees significant and close relationships and this may be due to the amount of time spent by trainees engaging in self-awareness and personal development sessions. This study is designed to explore this issue in more detail using the lived experiences of counselling trainees.
3. Research Questions The following research questions are to be explored via semi-structured one-to-one interviews: * Have students noticed a change in their own personal development whilst training as a counselor? * Have students noticed any impact, positive or negative, of personal development and self-awareness training on their significant close relationships? * Is the student counsellor aware of any significant changes to these relationships and has help been available from the university? * Is the student counsellor aware of any help available for students families? * Is the student aware of the extent of their responsibilities to significant relationships?
4. Literature Review Using several different electronic databases, research has been conducted to find journal publications that are relevant to the aims and objectives of the proposed research.
4.1 Search Strategy A search of the literature was undertaken using Boolean logic, which allowed for a more sensitive search of the title and abstracts of the following databases: PsychInfo, Embase, Medline, and The Cochrane Library of systematic reviews. There were a number of keywords and phrases utilised to identify literature pertinent to this proposal, including: counsellor training OR counselling training student counsellors OR trainee counsellors AND impact of training on significant relationships OR personal development OR personal relationships OR significant relationships. The words counselling and counsellor were also searched with one L in order to address differences in English and American spellings.
4.2 Results of Literature Review There is a considerable amount of information related to counsellor training and its impact on society (Scholl and Cascone 2010). There is, however, a paucity of research examining the impact of counselor training on student counsellors significant relationships (Macran and Shapiro, 1998). In 2012, the paucity of research in this area is as surprising as reported by Flynn-Piercy (2002) 10-years previously. It has long been established that personal development is a core aspect of counselor training (Wheeler, 2000), and yet the topic remains relatively under-researched, especially in terms of the impact this personal development has on trainees significant relationships.
The changes that occur to student counsellors as a result of personal development can be likened to the same changes that occur in counseling clients. Indeed, Flynn-Piercy (2002) state that it is very similar to the therapeutic process, which is supported by observations from trainers (Mearns, 1997) and feedback from students (Harding Davies et al., 2004). Such changes are likely to impact significant relationships, as is also the case with clients who receive counselling (Fear, 2004). This was first highlighted by Mearns (1997), with there being a specific emphasis on the problems that might arise between student counsellors and their partners as a result of their training and subsequent personal development. Although this can introduce crisis, it can also, according to Mearns (1997) introduce opportunity. According to the literature, however, it is not clear whether crisis or opportunity is the predominant outcome in such circumstances (Looney et al., 1980; Guy, 1987).
The literature suggests that one of the key issues that can impact student counsellors relationships is the anxiety that arises in partners as students develop close attachments to others (Cawkhill, 2002). In particular, confidentiality is a big part of these new relationships and can spark jealousy or feelings of exclusion from partners. As a result, it has been argued that students need to accept responsibility for helping their partners or significant others cope with any changes that will inevitably result from their training (Cawkhill, 2002).
Flynn-Piercy (2002) conducted a heuristic study examining the impact of Relate counsellors training on their relationships with their partners. It was found that there was a significant impact on these relationships, which trainees had been unprepared for. The advantages of their training included improved communication, a disadvantage was that partners became personally de-stablised (Flynn-Piercy, 2002: 55). Despite the advantages, there was an overall threat to the relationships. This study is, however, not generalisable to all trainee counsellors since it only examined those training as Relate counsellors who specifically work in the area of relationships.
A quantitative study conducted by Wright (2004) supported the findings of Flynn-Piercys (2002) qualitative study as it was found that student counsellors (n=200) did change as a result of their training and this did impact their relationships. Changes occurred in relationships with partners, friends, and family, but most markedly with partners. It was concluded, however, that changes were primarily positive. Again, however, there was a lack of preparation for these changes.
As has been demonstrated, counseling training can have both positive and negative outcomes in the trainee counsellors relationships. To expand further on the positive, Crews et al. (2005) conducted a study to examine self-monitoring combined with counselling skills. The purpose of this study was to examine student counsellors who were undergoing training with responses to actual counselling performance. Results indicated that regardless of personal background or traits, counselling training improved social- and self-awareness for the participants involved.
Despite the paucity of research on the impact of counseling training and, in particular, personal development on student counsellors relationships, the literature clearly shows that an impact is evident. This impact can be positive and negative, but more research is needed to establish details pertaining to the positive and negative impact, as well as the specific components of personal development that appear to have the most impact. This supports the need for the proposed research.
5. Methodology 5.1 Sample The sample will be purposive and will comprise four student counsellors who have undergone counsellor training on the BA (Hons) Counselling Studies Final Year Top-up programme. This sample size, although small, is sufficient for the chosen method of analysis, which is interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) (Smith, 2003). In respect of confidentiality, pseudonyms will be used in any written documents referring to each student.
5.2 Semi-Structured Interviews Semi-structured interviews lasting 30-45 minutes will be conducted by the researcher and taped for data analysis. If participants would like to speak for longer than 30-45 minutes, this will be allowed in order to gain as much rich data as possible. Potential interview questions, designed to address the research questions in 3, will be tested within a small focus group, with all questions being formed on the basis of evidence within the literature.
Questions will be open-ended and non-leading, in line with best practice. Potential questions include, but are not restricted to: * What changes have you noticed in your personal development whilst training as a counsellor? * What changes have you noticed in your self-awareness whilst training as a counsellor? * Have these changes had any positive impact on any of your significant close relationships? * Have they had any negative impact on any of your significant close relationships? * What, if any, have been the key changes in any significant relationships since you started training? * Have you received any help from the university in terms of preparing for or coping with these changes? * Are you aware of any help available for students families? * What do you feel is the extent of your responsibilities to significant relationships?