Counselling Psychologists' Experiences of Working with Exercise in Therapy: A qualitative study

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Ruth Gordon


Background and objectives: Despite the benefits of exercise for both physical and psychological health and the focus of counselling psychology on a holistic approach to wellbeing, we know little about the role of exercise within the discipline. Furthermore, no research has examined UK-based counselling psychologists' experiences of working with exercise. The objective of this study was therefore to explore UK-based counselling psychologists' experiences of incorporating exercise into their therapeutic work. The research questions were as follows: 1. How have counselling psychologists used exercise within their therapeutic work? and 2. What has been the experience of those counselling psychologists who have incorporated exercise into their work? Method and analyses: A qualitative design was used within this project. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight UK-based counselling psychologists who stated that exercise had formed part of their therapeutic work. The interview material was then analysed using thematic analysis. Analysis: The themes developed from the first research question revealed a number of ways in which exercise had formed part of counselling psychologists' work; including as an intervention that clients engaged in between sessions, within the sessions themselves, and through collaboration with other professionals. Six main themes were developed when exploring the participants' experiences of working with exercise: 'vehicle for change', 'holism', 'influence of self', 'a quiet voice', 'one of many tools' and 'collaboration'. These are introduced and outlined in depth in turn. Conclusions: The research enabled, for the first time, an insight into the role of exercise within counselling psychologists' therapeutic work. Some UK-based counselling psychologists are using exercise with their clients; in a variety of forms and from a variety of rationales. The participants described a host of ways in which they had witnessed exercise as beneficial to their clients, but ranged in their views regarding whether exercise should be introduced into the work by the therapist. Exploring exercise raised wider issues relating to the approach of counselling psychologists towards clients' physical health as well as the role of pluralism in further developing the use of exercise within therapy. Suggestions for theory, further research and practice are proposed.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2015