The professional development of counsellors and psychotherapists: Implications of empirical studies for supervision, training and practice

Michael Helge Rønnestad, David E. Orlinsky, Thomas A. Schröder, Thomas M. Skovholt, Ulrike Willutzki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Background: This article presents key findings of two major empirical studies of psychotherapist and counsellor development. Both aimed to advance knowledge of variations in professional development and better understand the complexity of formative influences. Methodology: The Minnesota Study of Therapist and Counsellor Development and the International Study of Development of Psychotherapists (ISDP) combined qualitative and quantitative research. Results: In the “Minnesota study,” qualitative analysis of data from 100 psychotherapists (172 interviews) at different experience levels led to formulating five phases of practitioner development: the Novice Student Phase, Experienced Student Phase, Novice Professional Phase, Experienced Professional Phase and Senior Professional Phase. Results were integrated in a model describing three developmental trajectories—Continued development, Exhaustion and Disengagement—suggesting a developmentally sensitive approach to supervision. In the ISDP study, the Development of Psychotherapist Common Core Questionnaire was used to survey approximately 5,000 psychotherapists from countries throughout the world from 1991 to 2003 (currently about 12,000 therapists). Multi-level quantitative analysis yielded two broad dimensions of therapeutic work experience, Healing Involvement and Stressful Involvement, based on therapists’ clinical skills, difficulties in practice, coping strategies, manner of relating to clients and in-session feelings. Analysis of therapists’ experiences of current professional development showed two dimensions (Currently Experienced Growth and Currently Experienced Depletion). These were predicted, respectively, by Healing Involvement and Stressful Involvement and in turn predicted different levels of Overall Career Development. Implications: Implications for supervison were drawn from the findings of The Phase Model and the Cyclical Trajectories model of the Minnesota-study, while the ISDP study results were integrated in a Cyclical-Sequential Model with implications for clinical training, supervision and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)214-230
Number of pages17
JournalCounselling and Psychotherapy Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy


  • counsellor
  • professional development
  • psychotherapist
  • supervision
  • therapy training


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