Accidental encounters outside psychotherapy room

This qualitative study explores psychodynamic therapists’ experiences associated with unexpected encounters with their patients outside the clinical setting, i.e. consultation room.

Such meetings may occur during social events, at a supermarket or in a sports club, and therapists can experience them as challenges to their privacy. Being a therapist may also affect how they behave in social space and manage their privacy boundaries.

Information in this study was collected using a semi-structured interview protocol from 10 experienced practitioners in Poland and examined according to the interpretative phenomenological analysis principles. Four overarching themes are discussed in the report.

Results show that accidental encounters often challenged practitioners’ privacy, led to involuntary self-disclosure (causing discomfort and distress) and required re-negotiating roles and boundaries in the new context. Various coping strategies were also identified, including withdrawal, anticipation and avoidance, as well as using community support. Findings are discussed in terms of their implications for mental health professionals and psychotherapy training.

Key practitioner message: All people manage their boundaries of privacy. Therapists should thoroughly consider circumstances, and personal or situational risk factors, which lead to crossing or violating these boundaries. They need to reflect upon the social and personal limitations associated with their occupation and the price they have to pay for the high status role.

Reference: Pietkiewicz, I. J. & Wlodarczyk, M. (2015). Crossing the boundaries of privacy in accidental encounters: interpretative phenomenological analysis of therapists' experiences. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 22(6), 708–721. doi: 10.1002/cpp.1930

See full report: ResearchGate

Research team:
Igor Pietkiewicz, Ph.D.; Monika Włodarczyk, M.Sc.