Foreign counselling trainees' experiences of practising in a second language and culture

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


We live in a multicultural, globalised world, in which counsellors and psychotherapists are increasingly required to work across languages and cultures. Existing literature, however, focuses largely on the needs and experiences of foreign clients, often overlooking the other half of the therapeutic dyad. This thesis tackles the under-researched area of foreign practitioners who work in a host environment. Given the ongoing cultural enrichment of counsellor education in Britain and the demanding character of counselling training in general, this work focuses on one sub-group of this population, namely counsellors in training. To that end, this thesis explores foreign counselling trainees’ experiences of practising in a second language and culture. Underpinned by hermeneutic phenomenology, methodologically this project draws upon the principles of Smith, Flowers and Larkin’s (2009) Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). The investigation consists of two empirical studies based on semi-structured interviews with A) non-native speaking and B) native speaking, foreign trainees in their counselling placement. This research design aims to investigate the phenomenon of beginning intercultural counselling from a holistic perspective rather than compare the two groups’ experiences. Overall, findings reveal the numerous ways in which linguistic and cultural difference influence trainees’ experiences of beginning intercultural/interlinguistic practice. The experience of difference appears to mainly impact on trainees’ practitioner identity rather than their perception of practice. Despite the complexities participants encounter, their accounts expose self-efficacy, revealing a position of viewing ‘deficit’ as advantageous. Moreover, findings indicate that the more ‘tangible’ difference is, the more readily trainees acknowledge and discuss its presence in counselling practice. This is largely related to intersubjectivity and encounters with others during training and practice. At the same time, participants’ accounts demonstrate that ‘nativeness/non-nativeness’ is not purely a matter of linguistic mastery, but largely intertwined with familiarity with the host culture. To that end, this thesis proposes that counsellor education ought to address difference, and non-nativeness in particular, from a broader perspective, advance the support provided to foreign trainees and provide opportunities for discussion that will promote all trainees’ cultural awareness.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Canavan, Siobhan, Supervisor
  • Smith, Marion, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014


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