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The Elephant in the Office: A Phenomenological Study of Spirituality-informed Student Therapists' Feelings of Incompetence in Early Therapeutic Encounters Open Access


Other title

spiritually-focused practitioners
feelings of incompetence
Type of item
Degree grantor
St. Stephen's College
Author or creator
Sherry Kim Bilida
Supervisor and department
Ms. Rita Ann Martino
Examining committee member and department
Amanda Radil, PhD(Cand)
Dr. Heather Jamieson
Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Psychotherapy and Spirituality
Degree level
This phenomenological study explored the lived experiences of spiritually-informed student therapists’ feelings of incompetence (FOI) in early therapeutic encounters. This aim was achieved by conducting two rounds of semi-structured interviews with three student therapists, who identify as spiritually-focused practitioners. Together, with field notes, researcher’s reflections and the reviewed literature, four major themes were revealed. Key findings included: 1) Uncertainty is certain, where somatic symptoms were indicators of ambiguous feelings. This theme also explored uncertainty as feeling powerless and experiences of uncertainty in supervision. Loneliness, isolation, and the impact of personal uncertainties completed the first theme. 2) The game-changer syndrome captures student therapists’ unrealistic expectations for their clients. This theme includes a discussion on perfectionism and comparison as subsets of this condition. 3) Practicing with presence illuminates the role of silence in attaining deeper therapeutic connections, commonly experienced by participants. 4) Therapists as conduits for the Divine is a conversation of spirituality’s role in alleviating feelings of incompetence. The principal conclusion was for educators, supervisors, students and colleagues to engage in a dialogue about these realities and ultimately mitigate these feelings of incompetence.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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