Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Gregory J. Jurkovic - Chair

Second Advisor

Leslie C. Jackson

Third Advisor

Marolyn C. Wells

Fourth Advisor

Roderick J. Watts


Research regarding the experience of the psychotherapist in the therapeutic interaction is uncommon in scientific literature and rarer still in the literature of the U.S. When Freud recognized the therapist’s emotional experience in response to the client, he termed it countertransference and identified it as counterproductive to the analytic process. Later it was recognized as containing potentially useful information about the client. Despite a shift in academic concern away from the clinician’s experience, outcome studies have demonstrated the importance of the therapeutic relationship. If the therapist’s experience can help or hinder the relationship and, therefore, the process of therapy, it must continue to be explored. Some researchers have suggested that the field may be disproportionately populated by individuals who had excessive emotional demands placed on them as children (Miller, 1979/1990). Jurkovic (1997) proposed that, along with strengths endowed by this childhood responsibility, parentified therapists may find themselves more vulnerable to a sense of duty that they must help clients. Similarly, these therapists might feel compelled by their empathic concern to go above and beyond. The experience of a therapist in such a situation might be to “feel in too deep with a client” – the phenomenon of concern for this study. Ten practicing, doctoral level psychologists were asked to describe a specific experience in which they felt in too deep with a client. Selection analysis and situational descriptions were reviewed with each participant. Four core themes emerged. They revealed the participants’ experience of feeling in too deep as involving a variety of distressful thoughts and feelings. A specific cluster of feeling insecure, confused, or not in control was universal. The other three core themes were challenge in connection, altering personal style of therapy, and balancing the wants and needs of the different people in the therapy relationship. The unique experiences of participants relative to the core themes are discussed. Recent research on therapist-identified difficult situations provides a context for understanding these themes. Feeling in too deep is considered as a response to an ethical challenge.


Included in

Psychology Commons