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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Counsellors' experience of creating and using the physical counselling environment : an interpretative phenomenological analysis Bartel Sawatzky, Melissa


The field of environmental psychology suggests that the physical environment may influence and be influenced by the humans that use it. The counselling setting is no different, and has been recognized by clients as an important factor in the establishment of the counselling alliance (Bedi, 2006). In addition, research suggests that the physical environment affects clients’ perceptions of counsellor competence, friendliness, and quality of care (Miwa & Hanyu, 2006; Nasar & Devlin, 2011; Pressly & Heesacker, 2001). But how do counsellors perceive and make meaning of their use of the space? The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experience of counsellors as it related to the physical environment used in counselling. The central research question that this study asked was: What are counsellors’ experience of creating and using the physical counselling environment? Using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), the study sought to understand how counsellors experience the creation and use of the physical counselling space and the meaning they ascribe to that experience. Eight counsellors, ranging from 5-35 years of counselling experience, were interviewed regarding their experience. The resulting transcriptions were analyzed using IPA and revealed three super-ordinate themes: Space as a Counselling Tool, Space as a Means for Self-care, and Negotiating Issues of Personal Control over the Space. The first two super-ordinate themes also included sub-themes. Space as a Counselling Tool was expressed more specifically as a tool to build relationships between counsellors and clients, as a tool to further the counselling process through exploration and specific exercises or techniques, and by matching the space with its use or purpose. Space as a Means for Self-care was expressed more specifically by experiences of personal enjoyment, meeting personal needs, reflecting the self, and through relationships with those other than clients. This study contributes to current literature by exploring the largely unheard perspective of practicing counsellors in regards to their physical counselling environment and inviting further discussion on how the physical environment may contribute to counselling practice and counsellors’ well-being. Future research regarding the physical environment and counselling are also discussed, as well as implications for counselling practice.

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