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Becoming a psychotherapist: Applications of Kegan's model for understanding the development of psychotherapists

Linda L Pratt, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Becoming a psychotherapist has generally been understood in terms of a passage through phases of professional development. Recently, however, structural models of adult development have begun to inform a new literature on developmental approaches to psychotherapy supervision. Using a structural developmental lens transforms one's understanding of psychotherapist development, suggesting that there is not just one process of becoming a psychotherapist, but many. It shifts the focus from the phasic tasks of skill development to the transformations which therapists undergo when development includes a fundamental shift in one's way of making sense of the world. How might the experience of key issues in clinical work be different, depending on the structural developmental lens with which we view our experience? This research explores the applications of Robert Kegan's (1994, 1982) model to this question. Twelve female psychologists were interviewed using a semi-structured format focused on six areas of clinical practice. Data was analyzed according to the coding scheme for Kegan's model and a qualitative analysis of emergent themes. The results of this study generally support the utility of Kegan's model for explaining differences in therapists' understandings of their clinical work. Developmental differences were found for four of the six areas studied. Therapists at Kegan's stage four were contrasted with those in transition from stage three to stage four in the following areas: responses to manipulative clients, dealing with the termination of psychotherapy, changes experienced as a therapist and perceptions of therapeutic challenges. Developmental differences were not apparent in therapists' manner of dealing with dual relationships or in their perceptions about clinical supervision. Kegan's model has significant implications for psychotherapy supervision. It can address the complexity involved in becoming a psychotherapist, while providing an organized schema for understanding the challenges therapists are likely to face at each stage of development. Kegan's model adds another dimension to Carl Rogers' person centered approach by illuminating the particular structures of meaning by which people understand their experience. For clinical supervisors, this new understanding might serve to deepen one's empathy for the different experiences of becoming a psychotherapist.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Academic guidance counseling|Cognitive therapy|Occupational psychology

Recommended Citation

Pratt, Linda L, "Becoming a psychotherapist: Applications of Kegan's model for understanding the development of psychotherapists" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9841915.