Reclaiming Research

Tony McSherry and Sally Parsloe trained in psychotherapy at the Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, at the University of Surrey then at Roehampton University and are now at the Southern Association for Psychotherapy and Counselling (SAFPAC). They have worked in the NHS and in private practice.  

Randomised Control Trials are seen as the’ gold standard’ of research. We feel it vital to offer a different form of research, an open process of curiosity, experience, reflection and temporary conclusion, finding something out, searching again, finding something deeper, attempting to understand without fooling ourselves that we can reach a full stop or worse, the ‘right answer’.  

Tony’s journey in psychological research started 20 years ago after two strands of ways of living - as an earth scientist and as a spiritual person - joined. During Tony’s PhD research it dawned how much ‘method’ alienates the researcher and participant, the therapist and client, from each other. He came to agree with Gadamer that ‘truth’ and ‘method’ don’t mix well.  

Previous work as a family lawyer made Sally aware of the way in which concealed dynamics of power define emotional distress and dictate outcomes maintaining power under the disguise of ‘helping’, in the process discarding the face of the person. 

This is why we espouse a form of research that privileges the texture of individual lives. Who am I? What does it feel like, being in the world? How did I come to feel like this? How do I affect others?   

Therapeutic research is reflection on the practice of psychotherapy. Every therapy session is material from which learning develops. We read, too. We read and read, and we talk and with other practitioners about ideas and theories as well as what we meet in the room. Then we write about it. In this way we put our own ideas, feelings and motives under interrogation.  

Freud wrote ‘bias of any kind is alien to me’ (Freud, 2003 p18.), a typically ironic comment that illuminates the fact that we (including institutions) are all subject to biases, motives and visions of ourselves. We need others to help navigate our blind spots and research as described is a crucial part of that navigation.  

We both have had the deflating experience of our submissions for publication being lambasted. After the initial fandango of egotistical defensive reaction, we calm down, talk to trusted others and welcome critique as helpful not only in the research, but in the work with the clients. 

In the current restrictive drive towards positivism in therapeutic research, getting articles like this published is difficult. You have to find a sympathetic forum. We often publish in the European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling. Case studies are excellent expositions of research but risky given the understandably high ethical regard to confidentiality. This creates a further drag towards faceless statistical analysis that distorts the contour of human experience. Research, for us, is to speak of what we make of our encounters with ourselves and others in the world, whether in simple terms or in Jacques Lacan’s deliberately elusive language. In this way, we believe, research opens wider the possibility of helping.   

Want to read Tony and Sally’s research article recently published in the European Journal for Psychotherapy and Counselling (EJPC)? UKCP is affiliated with EJPC, which means that all UKCP members have access to current and previous issues of the journal.

Log in to the UKCP members' area and click on the 'EJPC’ button to access the journal.


  • Policy and research

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