Respect for the journey: a survivor-led investigation of undergoing psychotherapy assessment

31 Jan 2021
Alison Faulkner, Katie Kelly, Sarah Gibson, Steve Gillard, Lana Samuels & Angela Sweeney


Psychotherapy assessments are key decision points for both clients and services, carrying considerable weight on both sides. Limited research indicates that assessments have immediate and long-term impacts on clients, particularly where trauma has been experienced, affecting engagement with therapy. Understanding assessments from clients’ perspectives can inform service development and improve client experience.


This is a survivor-led exploration of clients’ experiences of undergoing assessment for talking therapies. Interviews were conducted with seven people who had undergone assessment for psychological therapies in third sector and NHS services. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and analysed thematically.


The core theme was ‘respect for the journey’ reflecting the need expressed by participants for their life experiences prior to the assessment to be given full respect and consideration. Six sub-themes were identified: trauma and desperation, fear of judgement, search for trust and safety, sharing and withholding (a balancing act), feeling deconstructed, and finding hope.


The findings highlight the heightened emotional power surrounding psychotherapy assessments, reflecting the journey participants had undertaken to reach this point. The dilemma facing clients at the heart of an assessment—how much to share and how much to withhold—demonstrates the importance for services and assessors of treating the journey a client has made to the assessment with care and respect. Findings indicate the value of services and practitioners undertaking a trauma-informed approach to assessment encounters.