1-2 page article review single spaced. See attachments
Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 2003, 31, 143–158
Printed in the United Kingdom DOI: 10.1017/S1352465803002029
COGNITIVE THERAPY FROM THE INSIDE:
ENHANCING THERAPIST SKILLS THROUGH
PRACTISING WHAT WE PREACH
Oxford Cognitive Therapy Centre, UK
Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, Melbourne, Australia
Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia
Sonja Pohlman and Elisabeth Hamernik
Prince Charles Hospital, Brisbane, Australia
Abstract. Experiential training and personal therapy have rich traditions in various therapies
as strategies to enhance self-awareness and therapist skills. However, personal experiential
work has not traditionally been part of cognitive therapy (CT) training. The purpose of the
present study is to map the impact of personal experiential work on CT skills in a group of
CT practitioners. Fourteen cognitive therapists undertook training courses utilizing a struc-
tured approach to self-practice of CT techniques, known as self-practice/self-reflection (SP/
SR). Six therapists from one training group engaged in ‘‘co-therapy’’ sessions with a partner,
while eight therapists from another training group practised CT techniques on their own.
Both groups engaged in regular written reflections about their experience. Follow-up 1–5
months after the courses identified six areas of self-reported skill enhancement: Refinement
of specific CT skills; Enriched communication of the conceptual framework of CT; Increased
attention to the therapeutic relationship; Empathic attunement; Therapist self-reflection; and
Therapeutic flexibility. The results suggested that SP/SR enhances the ‘‘professional art-
istry’’ of therapists, a finding consistent with literature suggesting that reflection is a key
process in the development of therapist expertise. It is concluded that SP/SR represents a
promising training strategy for cognitive therapists.
Keywords: Cognitive therapy training, experiential learning, self-reflection, therapist skills,
Reprint requests to James Bennett-Levy, Oxford Cognitive Therapy Centre, Psychology Department, Warneford
Hospital, Headington, Oxford OX3 7JX, UK. E-mail: email@example.com
2003 British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies
J. Bennett-Levy et al.144
Since the time of Freud (1937/1957), personal therapy and/or experiential work has been
seen as an important component in the training of psychotherapists and counsellors. In many
traditions of psychotherapy and counselling (e.g. Freudian psychoanalysis, Jungian analysis,
transactional analysis, gestalt therapy), therapists-in-training undergo personal therapy
(Macran & Shapiro, 1998; Williams, Coyle, & Lyons, 1999). In other traditions (e.g. family
therapy, group therapy), personal experiential work (e.g. classroom work on family-of-origin
experience) is included as part of training course exercises (Beck & Munson, 1988; Feiner,
1998; McDaniel & Landau-Stanton, 1991).
Despite the widespread use of personal therapy as a training device for psychotherapists
and counsellors, there has been a paucity of studies evaluating its effectiveness. The empir-
ical evidence that exists is weak. Therapists themselves rate the influence of personal therapy
on their professional development very highly (Orlinsky, Botermans, Rønnestad et al.,
2001). However, in a review of personal therapy for therapists, Macran and Shapiro (1998)
suggested that while there was some evidence that personal therapy has a positive effect on
empathy, warmth and genuineness, there was little other objective evidence of changes.
Methodological problems pervade the literature, and may partially account for the lack
of relevant studies and useful findings. Not only is it difficult to determine whether any
change of skill is the result of personal therapy, some other training process, or concurrent
clinical experience – especially as personal therapy frequently lasts a considerable time –
but also there is an embedded assumption that all personal therapists are competent, and all
therapy is of value, which is unlikely to be true (Strupp, Butler, & Rosser, 1988). Further-
more, most of the personal therapy literature comes from one form of therapy, psychodyn-
amic therapy. Only in the last few years is there any indication in the research literature of
personal therapy with therapists from other therapy traditions e.g. humanistic, eclectic
(Norcross, Dryden, & DeMichele, 1992; Williams et al., 1999).
Evidence for a positive impact of personal experiential work in therapist training courses
is only marginally better. Perhaps the strongest evidence is provided by a meta-analytic
review of three major counselling programs, suggesting that the program with a personal
experiential component – Carkhuff’s Human Resource Training/Human Resource Develop-
ment – had the best outcomes (Baker, Daniels, & Greeley, 1990).
Behaviour therapy and cognitive therapy stand out as two psychological therapies that, in
most countries, have not included personal experiential work as a requisite part of training
(see Laireiter, 1998). With the advent of behaviour therapy, the practice of therapy was seen
as a largely technological pursuit, and the value of personal development for the therapist
was often de-emphasized (Gray, 1991). More recently, several leading cognitive therapists
have suggested that practising CT techniques on oneself may make a valuable contribution
to therapist training (Beck, 1995; Friedberg & Fidaleo, 1992; Linehan & McGhee, 1994;
Padesky, 1996; Padesky & Greenberger, 1995; Safran & Muran, 2001). Padesky (1996, p.
288), for example, has written: ‘‘To fully understand the process of the therapy, there is no
substitute for using cognitive therapy methods on oneself.’’ In part, acknowledgement of
the value of personal experiential work may be a response to the growing recognition of the
importance of interpersonal processes in CT (Safran & Segal, 1990), particularly in the
context of working with more complex diagnostic groups e.g. personality disorders, sub-
stance abuse, bipolar disorder (Basco, 2000; Beck, Freeman, & Associates, 1990; Beck,
Cognitive therapy from the inside 145
Wright, Newman, & Liese, 1993; Linehan, 1993). As Wills and Sanders (1997, p. 21) have
stated, being a cognitive therapist now demands ‘‘a high degree of self-knowledge – an
awareness emphasised more readily in other therapies but now a necessary part of cognitive
In an earlier study examining the impact of personal experiential work on the training of
cognitive therapists, Bennett-Levy et al. (2001) devised a training strategy known as SP/SR
(self-practice/self-reflection), based on the adult learning principles of experiential learning
and self-reflection (Kolb, 1984; Schön, 1983; Boud, Keogh, & Walker, 1985). In SP/SR,
trainees practise CT techniques on themselves (SP), either from workbooks on their own,
or they do ‘‘co-therapy’’ with a training partner. Then they reflect in writing on the
(SR), looking at the implications for themselves, for their clients, and for cognitive theory.
Bennett-Levy et al. (2001) found that trainee cognitive therapists in a university clinical
psychology program, using SP/SR, reported a ‘‘deeper sense of knowing’’ of CT practices.
Participant reports suggested that SP/SR impacted at a conceptual level on therapeutic under-
standings, at a practical level on therapist skills, and at an attitudinal level on therapist
self-concept. For many, the value of SP/SR was personal as well as professional. However,
as Bennett-Levy et al. (2001, p. 214) noted, most of the data related to changes in therapist
understandings, with only a limited amount on changes in therapists skills:
The fact that less than 10% of the data referred to impact on therapist skills, or therapist
self-concept, is not surprising. The course was only 13 weeks long, and the majority of
trainees were doing their first clinical placements, and thus had little chance or context to
gauge possible changes.
With novice trainees, since all aspects of CT are new – reading about theory, role-playing
skills, observational learning via clinical demonstrations, SP/SR etc – it is reasonable to
assume that the learning curve is steep, and that all teaching methods contribute in various
ways to early skills development. When novice trainees comment on therapist skill develop-
ment, it is extremely difficult to discern what proportion of the impact is caused by SP/SR,
compared with other training techniques. However, the spontaneous comments of the more
experienced therapists in the training program suggested that, amongst this group, it might
be more possible to identify the specific impact of SP/SR on therapist skills, the assumption
being that practitioners who have already learned basic therapy skills can more readily
differentiate the impact of SP/SR from other learning processes.
Accordingly, the primary purpose of the study was to ‘‘map the territory’’: to determine
which therapist skills may be affected by personal experiential work, in a group of practi-
tioners who were already working professionally as cognitive therapists. ‘‘Mapping’’ was
undertaken through a qualitative analysis of practitioners’ self-reported changes in skill. No
attempt has been made to measure actual changes in skill at this stage, since the present
study, designed to identify the most relevant dimensions of SP/SR-induced change, is seen
as the logical precursor to future skill measurement studies.
The 14 participants whose observations have contributed to the present study were drawn
from two different training groups: six were cognitive therapists from Brisbane (all female;
J. Bennett-Levy et al.146
mean age = 38.3 years), who attended an SP/SR-based ‘‘cognitive therapy experiential
training group’’; five had more than five years experience, and the other one had one-and-a-
half years. The North Queensland group (NQ) were practising psychologists (seven female,
one male; mean age = 34.5 years; 7 months to 7 years of experience), who were undertaking
a one-semester course in CT within a university-based clinical psychology program.
The SP/SR courses
The Brisbane course was advertised on the e-mail lists of relevant professional bodies, and,
following an introductory evening, eight people decided to participate. It comprised an
introductory session, followed by five fortnightly workshops. Having made formal agree-
ments regarding confidentiality, goals and course commitments, each participant engaged in
a ‘‘co-therapy’’ relationship with a partner, focusing on a ‘‘personal change project’’ of low
to moderate emotional intensity. At each workshop, partners engaged in both therapist and
client roles, and reflected on the experience verbally at the end of sessions, and in writing
between sessions. Therapy sessions were also undertaken during the alternative week to the
Each fortnight, participants e-mailed written reflections on their experience to the course
facilitator, who then circulated them anonymously. A clear distinction was made between
reflection on process and reflection on content; to preserve feeling of safety within the
group, it was agreed that participants should only reflect on process.
SP/SR for the NQ group included the key ingredients of experiential learning and written
reflection, but took a different form. Participants practised CT techniques on their own,
using an SP/SR workbook designed by the first author. This utilized exercises from the
client manual Mind over mood (Greenberger & Padesky, 1995) and followed them with
specific reflective questions (e.g. what did you notice? what are the implications of your
experience for your work with clients?). Participants e-mailed their reflections to the course
coordinator, who then e-mailed back out to the group a weekly digest of the reflections with
a brief commentary.
The present study is one of a series of studies designed to assess the experience and impact
of SP/SR on practitioner development (Bennett-Levy et al., 2001; Bennett-Levy, 2003a).
The research orientation has been founded on certain assumptions:
1. With the paucity of data and theory in this field, the aim of the research has been to
develop a database, founded on the experience of practitioners, and to use an inductive
approach to build theory methodically from the data.
2. Participants are in a unique position to comment on ways in which their experience
has been impacted by personal experiential work. Formal measures (e.g. the Cognitive
Therapy Scale, Young & Beck, 1980) may fail to pick up relevant dimensions of
change (Milne, Claydon, Blackburn, & James, 2001; Whisman, 1993), and thus con-
strain data and theorizing.
3. There is a growing acceptance of qualitative methodologies within psychology
(Banister, Burman, Parker, Taylor, & Tindall, 1994; Hayes, 1997; Richardson, 1996;
Cognitive therapy from the inside 147
Smith, Harre, & Van Langenhove, 1995), and they have now reached a level of soph-
istication where verbal reports of participant experiences can be coded and classified
in recognized, systematic ways.
4. The success of experiential learning programs (including SP/SR) is dependent on the
development of trusting, engaged relationships between facilitator and participants
(Robertson, 1996), and willingness to share experience. Hence, the traditional positiv-
ist detached relationship between researcher and ‘‘the researched’’ may often be
unsympathetic to the context of SP/SR, unfeasible in practice, and pedagogically
The research has been based on three qualitative methodologies: action research
(Kemmis & McTaggart, 2000; Zuber-Skerritt, 1996), grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss,
1967; Pidgeon, 1996; Strauss & Corbin, 1994) and practitioner researcher self-study (Schön,
1983, 1987). Details of these are provided in Bennett-Levy et al. (2001) and the cited
references. In brief, action research contributed the participatory, cooperative approach, and
the cyclical process of the plan-act-observe-evaluate spiral, which structured the research
process; grounded theory contributed the methodological framework and a systematic, rigor-
ous set of methods to collect and analyse data; and practitioner-researcher self-study pro-
vided the focus on personal experience, and the reflective orientation of the study.
The Brisbane group was established with an explicit evaluative/research emphasis, based on
action research principles. During the course, the principal research focus was on evaluation
of automatic thought records and behavioural experiments as techniques for change
(Bennett-Levy, 2003b). In meetings following the course, the present authors – four group
members who wished to continue the research, and the facilitator – decided to evaluate
formally the impact of SP/SR on therapist skills, since participants had noticed changes in
their performance that they attributed to SP/SR.
Accordingly, three to five months after the course, the four Brisbane participant-
researchers undertook two specific assessments to determine the impact of SP/SR on therap-
1. They wrote a general reflection indicating the various ways in which they thought
their therapy skills had changed as a result of SP/SR.
2. They closely observed a suggested 8–10 of their therapy sessions with clients, and
noted immediately after the session the perceived differences in their skills (tapes
were not used). Later, they formally wrote up these reflections, commenting on the
differences; comparing them with the past; and linking them, where appropriate, with
their SP/SR experience.
These two methods provided the data for the four Brisbane participants. Macran and Shapiro
(1998) proposed similar methods to evaluate the impact of personal therapy on therapist
In order to increase the size and representativeness of the sample, the data set was
expanded to include every recorded written or spoken reflection in the Brisbane and NQ
groups, which linked changes in therapy skills to the practice of SP/SR. Hence data were
J. Bennett-Levy et al.148
included from two other members of the Brisbane group, who commented on skills changes
during tape recorded group reflections during the course; and from eight practitioners in the
NQ program, who had also made incidental comments about SP/SR-induced changes in
skills in written reflections, or during interviews with the first author 4–6 weeks after course
completion. Approximately 66% of the data (by word count) were contributed by the four
Brisbane action researchers, who specifically focused their inquiry on the research question;
the remaining data were contributed by the other 10 participants.
All relevant data were assembled and analysed as a group by the five authors, using the
Technologies of Participation (ToP) workshop method (Spencer, 1989). The ToP workshop
method provides a way for researchers to make group decisions about category naming and
membership. Figure 1 illustrates the three-stage ToP process for forming category groups.
One criticism sometimes levelled at qualitative methodologies is the potential for distorted,
idiosyncratic interpretations, lacking credibility (Miles & Huberman, 1994). A particular
strength of the ToP method is that it largely avoids these pitfalls, by demanding classification
agreements across multiple researchers.
1. Give category labels to each written reflection (self-observation) of change in therapist skill
2. Form categories into groups of items that the researchers determine ‘‘go together’’
3. Once groups are stabilized and agreed, researchers name each category group
I have a clearer understanding about the practice of CBT
these days, more so than before the workshop: prior to
the workshop, I would describe myself as very cognitive,
and would not pay much attention to behavioural
experiments. However, since the workshop, I have
learned to appreciate the enormity of the benefits from
behavioural experiments in confirming and strengthening
the cognitive work and I am beginning to include them
within CBT therapy much more.
Increased use of
easier and more
existing skills Increased
Increased use of
Figure 1. Technologies of participation data analytic method
Cognitive therapy from the inside 149
The data reported in the Results section are directly derived from the ToP analysis.
Although there were differences in data collection methods between the four Brisbane practi-
tioner-researchers, who directly focused their reflections on the research question, and the
other 10 participants, for whom these were incidental observations, the results were pooled
as the type of observations appeared broadly similar. Specific similarities and differences
between the groups are reported below.
Changes in therapist skills formed six principal categories, and 22 subcategories. Only the
principal categories are reported here. These were: (1) Refining specific CT skills; (2) Com-
municating the conceptual framework of CT; (3) Attention to the therapeutic relationship;
(4) Empathic attunement; (5) Therapist self-reflection; and (6) Therapist flexibility. For each
category, there were many examples, but for reasons of space just one illustrative example
is given. All names have been changed to preserve anonymity.
Comparing the Brisbane and NQ groups, all 22 subcategories contained examples from
the Brisbane therapists. The NQ group was represented in 16 subcategories: in all seven
subcategories of (4), (5) and (6) above, 3/4 subcategories for (3), 5/8 subcategories for (1),
and 1/3 subcategories for (2). Thus, while there was a large degree of overlap in the reported
impact of SP/SR, the two groups appear to have differed to some degree in the extent to
which they reported gains in the more specifically CT-oriented skills.
Refining specific cognitive therapy skills
Participants referred to a number of ways in which their technical CT skills had been refined
through self-practice. The thrust of this refinement was towards making the delivery of CT
more effective. Practitioners were using the formulation to greater effect by staying with it
longer and using it to drive their selection of techniques. There was an increased focus on
effective skills building for clients: existing skills were deliberately reinforced; homework
was simplified, practised more within sessions, and anticipated difficulties prepared for more
effectively. There was greater emphasis on behavioural experiments as a key component of
therapy. The value of guided discovery and reflection, and testing and challenging cogni-
tions, was reinforced, with an emphasis on the value of writing things down both in sessions
For instance, Sue recognized the value of self-reflection and guided discovery in her own
SP/SR process, and noted how this had impacted on her therapy work:
I think the main change for me is an increased awareness of the use of self-reflection as a
therapy tool. I use much more socratic questioning and guided reflection with clients now
and my focus is on teaching them to reflect on their behaviour, thoughts etc. I give them a
lot more reflection for homework. I spend much more time (more sessions) on increasing
awareness of cognitions through reflection on behaviour. I use guided discovery much more
and I think I’m better at it because I think about it and use it deliberately.
Communicating the conceptual framework of cognitive therapy
The emphasis in this category was on communicating the conceptual framework of CT
with the client more effectively: for example, explaining the cognitive model, sharing the
J. Bennett-Levy et al.150
formulation, and conveying belief in the model. Participants alluded to such strategies as
providing a stronger rationale for CT; taking more time to teach and explain the model; and
‘‘selling the model’’ better by providing more examples and showing greater enthusiasm
and increased confidence in the possibility of change. An example is provided by Martina,
who was running CT groups in her workplace, and had the following interaction in a group
This session involved clients questioning the rationale of the CT model and ‘‘Does it work?’’
Normally I hate those questions – I always felt like a salesperson (and a shonky one at
that). I think that feeling came from my own doubts of ‘‘Well, all the evidence says it works
but . . .’’ – I am always much more convinced by personal experience. During this session,
I now felt the confidence to relate that they really could expect changes. My own SP/SR
experience really filled me with a renewed respect for the effectiveness of CT techniques and
I think that enthusiasm and sincerity is evident to clients. No longer the shonky salesperson!
Increased attention to the therapeutic relationship
Participants noted changes, or a re-emphasis, on their relationship skills as a result of SP/
SR. A sound therapeutic relationship was seen as creating the necessary basis for change.
Being emphatic and collaborative, showing respect for courage and bravery, building rap-
port, being patient, and sometimes self-disclosing when appropriate were all areas in which
participants judged that they had made often quite subtle, but important, changes. The
experience of being ‘‘in the client’s shoes’’ demonstrated starkly some of the anxiety and
difficulties in making changes, even as high functioning individuals; and served to emphas-
ize how valuable empathy, understanding, respect, tolerance and guidance of the therapist is.
Terri noted how her approach to the initial assessment interview had altered as a result
of her SP/SR experience:
I tend to let the client lead the talk (i.e. run with the client’s agenda) and I get what I need
from the conversation, rather than running the interview like a structured interview . . . I
have found that running the interview like a conversation helps the rapport building of the
relationship. In the past, I was much more structured in my initial interview techniques. The
experience of being a client in the SP/SR process helped me to realize this. I found the
initial interviews very ‘‘hard’’ as a client as you are describing problems that you may not
be proud of, and to have a therapist ask questions that were seemingly unrelated would, I
feel, damage rapport building. However, if I had the freedom to speak of my issues, with
only occasional prompts, it gave the impression the therapist was more interested in ME,
rather than getting a thorough history.
As a result of SP/SR, participants reported that they had greater acceptance of ‘‘where the
client was at’’, and adapted their skills and strategies accordingly. They were more sensitive
to the client’s readiness or lack of readiness to change; they made fewer assumptions about
the client’s level of knowledge or skills, and checked these out or gave simple explanations
before proceeding; their empathy for homework non-compliance was increased substantially
as a result of their own experience; and they ‘‘rolled with resistance’’ in various ways –
Cognitive therapy from the inside 151
for instance, by making use of ‘‘failures’’ in therapy, being more accepting of apparent
resistance, and reinterpreting the meaning of resistance.
Jane noted that she had changed her attitude and response to homework non-compliance
as a result of her experience of SP/SR:
The other effect this exercise had for me was that I am more understanding of clients not
doing their homework because I wasn’t very good with it either and by the second week
had a really hard time keeping up with the writing of thoughts. Somehow behavioural experi-
ments seem a bit easier to complete than homework and so, I guess I changed what I give
clients as homework too. If they don’t record thoughts by the third session, the homework
is behavioural and that seems to work pretty well. I give behavioural experiments as home-
work earlier in therapy.
SP/SR enhanced therapist self-reflection, both during sessions (reflection-in-action) and after
sessions (reflection-on-action). During sessions, some therapists reported that they were
more aware of their own internal process, and two of them commented that this increased
awareness enabled them to increase the separation between their own process and that of
the client, allowing them to be more objective in their response. After sessions, therapists
were more inclined to use self-reflection as a self-initiated learning tool to improve their
For Eve, who was still in her first year working professionally as a therapist, reflecting
systematically on a therapy session was a new skill:
I also think, an important skill I have learned is self-reflection, for two reasons. One, for
myself as a psychologist, to learn to look more into the therapeutic relationship and reflect
on my sessions. Was my client trying to convey something to me through affect or some-
thing they said? Did I pick up on things that happened/were said in the session? I don’t
think I ever really did this before; I think I just assumed that therapy would work like a
well-oiled machine. I plan the session, deliver the session – client leaves. I think I wrongly
assumed that everything I did and taught my client would automatically work. How wrong
was I!! This has definitely showed me to be more sensitive to what is happening within the
session and to direct my attention to it.
A number of practitioners commented that they were more flexible and adaptable in their
use of CT techniques, and more inclined to experiment as a result of their SP/SR. For
example, Henry said in his interview:
You lose this rigid thinking in therapy that you are not even aware of. With the self-reflection
you start to dig deeper and then you realize that slight changes can have different results
and you are more willing to experiment with clients and take it on a deeper level and you
get more self-confidence by testing it out on yourself. And really it’s like you can know
something very well and it works but once you have applied it to yourself it has got a
different meaning and you lose these pre-conceived ideas ‘‘if I do this, this should happen’’.
J. Bennett-Levy et al.152
And with cognitive therapy I lost being afraid, if things don’t work out, I have to change
everything . . . Now I am actually using what happened in the data, and going from here,
which is so much more beneficial to my health I think than having to come up with a
completely new idea.
The research presented here indicates that CT practitioners who undertake focused personal
experiential work within a training context report an enhancement of their therapeutic skills
in specific areas. These changes appear to be qualitative, as much as quantitative, the result
of a perspective shift that comes from being ‘‘in the client’s shoes’’. For instance, experien-
cing from the inside both the anxiety and the impact of behavioural experiments prompts
therapists to ensure that clients are adequately prepared for experiments (Communicating the
conceptual framework of CT); to monitor the client’s emotional state closely, and establish
appropriately graduated tasks (Empathic attunement); and often to put more emphasis on
behavioural experiments (Refining specific CT skills) as a key component of therapy than
they have in the past. These are not necessarily new skills for experienced therapists, but
the client’s shoes perspective creates an enhanced empathy and sensitivity for the client’s
situation, which results in a more careful approach to therapy, attuned to the subtle nuances
SP/SR participants appear to develop a more ‘‘lived theory’’ of CT, and a more elaborated
‘‘theory of the client’’ and ‘‘theory of the therapist’’. Their lived theory tends to promote
use of their own language, their own metaphors, and sometimes their own experiences
to illustrate relevant points (Attention to the therapeutic relationship, Communicating the
conceptual framework of CT). Their theory of the client is felt from the inside. They have
an inner appreciation of how a client may feel or think when having to make changes
(Empathic attunement); they may reconceptualize the nature of ‘‘resistance’’, invoking a
broader social and interpersonal context (the client is not just being ‘‘difficult’’); they under-
stand better the nature of pain, the difficulty of change, and the nature of courage. Their
theory of the therapist now encompasses a richer appreciation of the value of the therapist
and the roles that therapists play, from guidance and skills development through to explorat-
ory questioning and encouragement to extend beyond the comfort zone (Attention to the
therapeutic relationship, Therapeutic flexibility). In short, the development of a more subtle
appreciation and sensitivity to client ‘‘in-process states’’ (Greenberg & Goldman, 1988),
and greater awareness of contextual factors through SP/SR, seems to prompt therapists to
refine their repertoire of skills, and increase flexibility, tailoring their interventions more
precisely to particular contexts.
The therapist skills data also indicate that SP/SR leads to the development of a valuable
meta-cognitive skill for therapists, therapist self-reflection. As Wills and Sanders (1997) and
others have pointed out, therapist self-awareness is becoming increasingly important for
cognitive therapists in the context of working with clients with long-standing complex prob-
lems (Beck et al., 1990; Linehan, 1993). As a meta-cognitive skill within the clinical context,
it enables therapists to reflect-on-action (after sessions) and to reflect-in-action (during
sessions) (Schön, 1983, 1987), develops their perceptual skills (Greenberg & Goldman,
1988; Rice & Greenberg, 1984), and cultivates an attitude of mindful practice (Epstein,
1999; Safran & Muran, 2000).
Cognitive therapy from the inside 153
Schön’s (1983, 1987) work on competence in the professions has made a distinction
between two kinds of knowledge: rational-technical knowledge, and what he terms ‘‘profes-
sional artistry’’. This distinction may be helpful in conceptualizing the effects of SP/SR. He
suggested that while rational-technical knowledge may be acquired through traditional teach-
ing techniques such as didactic learning, professional artistry is acquired through reflection.
A similar point has been made by Skovholt and Rønnestad in a series of studies of
therapist development (Skovholt, 2001; Skovholt & Rønnestad, 1992; Skovholt, Rønne-
stad, & Jennings, 1997). They found that ‘‘continuous professional reflection’’ is a key
component in the development of therapeutic competence. Over the last 20 years, adult
educationalists have consistently emphasized the importance of experiential learning and
self-reflection in adult learning (Kolb, 1984; Boud et al., 1985; Schön, 1987). One of the
conclusions from the present study is that these processes are also central to the development
of ‘‘professional artistry’’ (Schön, 1983, 1987) amongst therapists, enabling them to fine-
tune their therapy skills. In essence, reflective practice is what distinguishes the expert
therapist from the average therapist, and SP/SR directly facilitates this.
Therapists undertaking SP/SR in pairs (Brisbane), and on their own (NQ), reported
broadly similar changes in skills, especially in the non-specific categories.1 However, there
are indications in the data that suggest that changes in the CT-specific skills (Refining
specific CT skills, and Communicating the conceptual framework of CT) may be greater in
the pairs group. We hypothesize that this is because, for the pairs, there is the added compon-
ent of being in the therapist’s chair, which enables perceptions from the client’s chair about
the value of the therapeutic relationship to be integrated with the actual delivery of the
specific CT skills to a ‘‘real life’’ client. It is not that new CT skills are learned; it is that
the existing ones are delivered with greater artistry, especially in the pairs group.
Are the results reported here consistent with the literature in the adjacent areas of personal
therapy for therapists, and experiential training? The most consistent finding across both
literatures is that personal experience with therapy techniques enhances empathy for clients
(Beck & Munson, 1988; Greenberg & Goldman, 1988; Macran & Shapiro, 1998;
McDaniel & Landau-Stanton, 1991; Norcross et al., 1992; Rennie, Brewster, & Toukmanian,
1985), with the assumption that interpersonal and perceptual skills in therapy are thereby
enhanced. In the present study, enhanced empathy was a common denominator underpinning
changes in a number of categories (e.g. Empathic attunement, Communicating the concep-
tual framework of CT, Attention to the therapeutic relationship).
Williams et al.’s (1999) study of personal therapy for therapists suggested that personal
development, understanding the working alliance and understanding the therapeutic process
are three of the principal gains, which were clearly mirrored in the current research. Norcross
et al.’s (1992) list of the 10 most lasting lessons of therapy included: change is gradual
and painful, albeit possible; there is need for patience and tolerance; therapist competence/
1 Since the paper was submitted, we have found a book chapter (Laireiter, 1998), referring to German research –
only published in German language journals – on ‘‘self-experience’’ of behaviour therapy and cognitive-
behavioural therapy. According to Laireiter (1998), participants in these studies reported ‘‘an improvement of their
interpersonal skills and a higher empathy for and a better understanding of their clients’’ and ‘‘higher self-awareness
and self-reflection’’. Furthermore, participants and clients reported ‘‘a higher interpersonal sensitivity and better
client-therapist relationship’’ after a weekend self-experience workshop. These data appear highly consistent with
some of the categories from the present research.
J. Bennett-Levy et al.154
commitment and use of self in therapy are important. These also have clear parallels in the
present study, as do most of the items on their list.
The present research on SP/SR may be regarded as more systematic and detailed than
previous research on either the impact of experiential training, or personal therapy for ther-
apists. However, there are enough parallels to indicate that there is a close correspondence
between the findings here and adjacent literatures.
A further issue concerns the value of the learning. Are the skills that participants suggest
are enhanced by SP/SR those that are known to be important determinants of outcome from
CT? Table 1 summarizes some of the relationships between the therapist skills categories,
and skills that have been associated in the research literature with good therapeutic outcomes
(Albert, 1997; Burns & Auerbach, 1996; DeRubeis & Feeley, 1990; Fennell & Teasdale,
1987; Hollon, Shelton, & Davis, 1993; Illardi & Craighead, 1994; Keijsers, Schaap, &
Hoggduin, 2000; Kingdon, Tyrer, Seivewright, Ferguson, & Murphy, 1996; Skovholt et al.,
As may be seen from Table 1, five of the categories of therapist skills (Refining CT
skills, Communication of the conceptual framework, Therapeutic flexibility, Attention to the
therapeutic relationship, Empathic attunement) map readily onto precisely those factors that
are associated with good outcomes in CT and other therapies, while the sixth (Therapist
self-reflection) has been identified as a key component in the development of therapist
competence (Skovholt & Rønnestad, 1992). It is therefore concluded that the kinds of
changes reported by participants undertaking SP/SR are those that research studies have
identified as central to the development of competent and effective therapists.
Of course, any conclusions about the value of SP/SR need to be tempered by the fact that
all the data are based on self-report, and there are no objective measures of therapist per-
formance. For example, therapists may report that they are more tolerant and understanding
of their clients when they do not do their homework, or that they are better able to commun-
icate the cognitive model to clients, but this has not been measured, and it is not known
how stable any such changes might be. These are clearly questions that need answering, but
Table 1. Therapist skills enhanced by SP/SR are associated with good therapy outcomes
Therapist skills enhanced by SP/SR Therapist skills associated with good
outcome in cognitive and other therapies
1. Refining specific CT skills � Therapist expertise
� Therapist adherence to model
2. Communicating the conceptual framework of CT � Providing good rationale
� Enhancing credibility
3. Increased attention to the therapeutic relationship � Working alliance
� Relational skills (Rogerian)
4. Empathic attunement � Perceptual skills
� Therapeutic empathy
5. Therapist self-reflection � Continuous self-reflection
6. Therapist flexibility � Therapist flexibility
Cognitive therapy from the inside 155
are not the purpose of the present research. Here the purpose has been to map SP/SR-induced
changes in therapist skills, as perceived by participants, which may then be used to generate
hypotheses for future outcome studies using objective criteria.
A second area of caution is that two-thirds of the data were contributed by the four
Brisbane participant-researchers, who undertook a systematic review of their changes in
therapist skills; this is a high percentage of data from a small number of people. When
compared with data from the NQ therapists, subcategory membership was very similar for
four out of six categories, despite differences in form of SP/SR. Triangulation across groups
enhances credibility of findings in qualitative research, and gives us some confidence that
these four categories may hold good in other groups, while differences in form of presenta-
tion of SP/SR (on own vs. in pairs) may account for the relative differences in the two more
specific CT skill categories. In retrospect, it would have been helpful either to have carried
out the same systematic investigation (specific questions and self-observational data
collection) with the other 10 therapists, or to have reinforced the data with data from a new
SP/SR group of experienced therapists; however, this was beyond the scope of the present
Having gone some way towards mapping the impact of SP/SR on therapist skills, as well
as therapist understandings and therapist self-concept (Bennett-Levy et al., 2001), future
research should examine the impact of SP/SR, and other experiential training approaches
(e.g. personal therapy) in larger samples, using quantitative measures. Existing measures
(e.g. the Cognitive Therapy Scale) may need to be adapted for this purpose, since they do
not adequately represent some dimensions of therapist performance impacted by SP/SR (e.g.
therapist flexibility, therapist self-reflection, use of metaphors based on personal experience).
Future research should also delineate conditions under which SP/SR may be most valu-
able, and conditions under which it is contraindicated. Bennett-Levy et al. (2001) made
some preliminary suggestions (e.g. longer courses, clear agreements, choice to participate),
but these dimensions need to be more fully articulated to provide a framework for trainers
wishing to use an SP/SR-based approach in training courses.
There is also a need to develop theoretical underpinnings for SP/SR. Bennett-Levy et al.
(2001) invoked Epstein’s (1994) distinction between rational and experiential information
processing systems as a framework to explain why participants reported SP/SR led to a
‘‘deeper sense of knowing’’ of CT practices than more traditional learning techniques. They
suggested that the impact of SP/SR might lie in its strong representation in both systems.
The development of a more articulated theoretical framework should lead to greater under-
standing of the potential value of SP/SR, and other experiential approaches.
We conclude that SP/SR represents a promising training strategy, with self-reported
changes in therapist skill that are consistent with therapist qualities that previous research
has demonstrated are associated with good outcomes. There are also good theoretical
grounds from adult learning theory to suggest the potential value of SP/SR.
As a training technique, our experience suggests that SP/SR may represent a useful middle
path between personal therapy and no experiential work, which is acceptable to institutions,
practitioners and students. The purpose and focus of SP/SR is clearly on training. Confiden-
tiality can be maintained, and dual relationships avoided between trainer and participants.
Participants need to be provided with adequate safeguards, in case they do experience dis-
tress (see Bennett-Levy et al., 2001), and alternative options where SP/SR is contraindicated
(e.g. concurrent stressful life events). Under these conditions, SP/SR may provide a safe,
J. Bennett-Levy et al.156
controlled alternative to personal therapy, which maximizes the benefits of personal experi-
ential work and self-reflection for therapist development, while containing it within the
context of training and academic courses.
The authors would like to thank Norma Morrison and Ann Hackmann for helpful comments
on earlier drafts of the paper.
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