Balancing closeness and distance through identity enactment: Psychological therapy assessments explored through the assessor-client dyad

21 Sep 2020
Angela Sweeney, Katie Kelly, Angela Kennedy, Sarah Clement, Mary Ion, Gemma Kothari & Steve Gillard

Whilst encounters in psychology are typically experienced relationally, qualitative dyadic research in psychology is relatively rare. This study used qualitative dyadic research to understand psychological therapy assessments, exploring how experiences are actively created through situated, relational encounters. Seven dyads participated in qualitative semi-structured interviews, predominantly from services for trauma survivors. Thematic dyadic analysis explored a third space, distinct from the experiential knowledge of individuals. We found that clients and assessors balance closeness and distance through enacting aspects of their identities impacting on connection, safety, trust and disclosures. Whilst assessors and clients come together as strangers, human beings, experts, collaborators and, at times, survivors, the key determining factor shaping the encounter is how successfully assessors communicate their humanity. We conclude that dyadic qualitative inquiry is a feasible and rich method for understanding the relational in psychological healthcare encounters.