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2020 European Congress of Qualitative Inquiry Malta

Stories of psychotherapists: the relationship with their prominent psychotherapist fathers

This research is part of a doctoral thesis examining the lived experience of psychotherapists whose fathers are psychotherapists. Positioned within the qualitative paradigm to research in counselling and psychotherapy (McLeod, 2001), material will be drawn from published interviews of prominent psychotherapists’ offspring, who are also psychotherapists. The use of thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) on such data will be explored, anticipating shedding light on questions such as: How does one experience being a child of a (famous) psychotherapist? How does a psychotherapist find himself, personally and professionally, particularly when following his fathers’ footsteps? The researcher’s lens in this inquiry include humanistic psychology and its ideas around the nature of the person’s dynamic process towards becoming (Rogers, 1961), as well as the notion from relational psychoanalysis of intersubjectivity (Benjamin, 1990). However, as the researcher is himself a psychotherapist, son of a psychotherapist father, the question of how the researcher’s experience may help or hinder the research process will be examined. Furthermore, a self-reflection will be included on how conducting a research project, where the researcher examines a phenomenon in which he is interested in and involved with personally, may affect the researcher’s experience of the phenomenon.

The experience of being an offspring of a prominent psychotherapist parent

Theofanis Karagiannis, Philia Issari & Del Loewenthal

Centre for Qualitative Research

in Psychology and Psychosocial Wellbeing

National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

The experience of being an offspring of a prominent psychotherapist parent

•“He can solve everybody else’s problems but not our own” A. Laing

“My guilt for revealing my father’s face was amplified, by a secret yearning to shout it from the rooftops” S. Erikson

•“As a father, he was always a friend” K. Adler

“A description of a development of how I got rid of these allocated roles, which are not my true self” M. Miller

The experience of being an offspring of a prominent psychotherapist parent

“I have been unusually fortunate in having Irvin Yalom as my father as well as a professional mentor” V. Yalom

•“Living next door to John Bowlby and raising his grandchildren would have been a daunting task” R. Bowlby

“I was with my father and I felt good…The essential thing: he was there, and I was flushed, enraptured” S. Lacan

•“I’m really Carl Rogers’ daughter when it comes to listening” N. Rogers

Research Questions

•How does one experience being an offspring of a (prominent) psychotherapist?

•How does a psychotherapist find himself, personally and professionally, particularly when following his parent’s footsteps?

•How significant may it be to build on a new ground while preserving one’s heritage and roots?


•11 published Interviews coming from 8 prominent psychotherapists’ offspring
•Braun, V. and Clarke, V. (2006) Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3 (2). pp. 77-101. ISSN 1478-0887
•I watched videos of them, read the summary of their approach, even read their obituaries

Thematic Analysis
Braun and Clarke

Thematic analysis is a method for identifying, analysing, and reporting patterns (themes) across a data set – be that…a range of texts

Through its theoretical freedom, thematic analysis provides a flexible and useful research tool

It can offer a more accessible form of analysis, particularly for those early in a qualitative research career

Important Decisions in this Thematic Analysis

•Thematic analysis involves a number of choices which are often not made explicit (or are certainly typically not discussed in the method section of papers), but which need explicitly to be considered and discussed.

1.Essentialist or realist method, which reports experiences, meanings and the reality of participants (not constructionist)

2.Mixed Theoretical-deductive and inductive-data driven

3.Detailed and nuanced account of a group of themes

4.Semantic-explicit approach: Description and less interpretation


•The researcher reflectively may examine literature and data “selectively and appropriately as needed in the telling of their story” (Wolcott 1990)

•It is preferable to “externalise personal biases so that they can be tackled in the open rather than operating at an unconscious level”. (McLeod, 1994)

•Answering on the “crucial question of where we are coming from” (Loewenthal, 2003)


•This preliminary study is part of the Literature Review in my PhD thesis, titled: On Becoming a Psychotherapist: stories of male psychotherapists and their relationship with their psychotherapists fathers

•I am interested in psychotherapeutic theories

•I am a practicing Existential-Analytic psychotherapist

•I am a son of an acknowledged and famous, in my country, psychotherapist

•The research questions are significant for my own being as a psychotherapist, man, father, husband

Personal Diary

As part of my self-reflection, I realised that I had been focusing more on the interviews stressing on the negative experience, while I had a ‘less-friendly’ approach on the interviews expressing more positive experience on the matter. Therefore, I refocused on the four more positive ones and generated more codes and subthemes, changing the structure of my main themes

Personal Diary

“Why am I bothered with K. Adler’s story?He seems to speak on behalf of his father. Is it that or does it bother me that they seemed to have worked as a team?”

“Why do I not believe what N. Rogers is saying on her childhood?”

“I feel sorry for V. Yalom and look down on him. Why? Is it him really? Do I see a part of him in me? Does it bother me that he accepted his Oedipal ‘defeat’? Could that be liberating?”

Braun and Clarke

A theme represents some level of patterned response or meaning within the data set

The ‘keyness’ of a theme is not necessarily dependent on quantifiable measures – but in terms of whether it captures something important in relation to the overall research question

In Thematic Analysis the role of the researcher is active, as he always plays in identifying patterns/themes, selecting which are of interest, and reporting them to the readers


1.Starting coding

2.Developed 35 subthemes

3.Returned to examine each subtheme again in each interview

4.Reviewing and grouping subthemes

5.Synthesis of themes

6.Returned to each individual and wrote his/her story, as related to the themes

7.Reviewed the stories and concluded on some analytic remarks

Negative experience regarding the prominent parent

•Absent Dad

•Attacking the parent using theory


•Parent’s guilt

•Parent as a narcissist

•Lack of Emotional contact


•Intrusion of third persons in the relationship

Positive experience regarding the prominent parent

•Emotional contact with the parent


•Beautiful memories with the parent

•Good characteristics of the parent

•Parent’s professional legacy

The person behind the theorist

•Parent’s childhood

•Parent’s relationship with spouse


•Revealing the truth

•Need to speak out

•Congruence between the theorist and the person

•Contrast between the theorist and the person









On Becoming Oneself

•Loss of self

•Inner harmony


•Difference with parent’s ideas


•Parent as a role model

•Parent as a professional mentor

•Oedipal complex

•Need to speak out


Negative experience regarding the prominent parent

Positive experience regarding the prominent parent

The person behind the theorist


On Becoming Oneself

Ronald & Adrian Laing

Adrian Laing
Negative experience regarding the prominent parent

•“He can solve everybody else’s problems but not our own

“My childhood was a crock of _”

“’In my mind, he confused liberalism with neglect…he had nothing to do with his own family”

“It was a double-bind, you see. Either he had nothing to do with it [Fiona’s breakdown] and his theories were shit, or he had everything to do with it and he was shit

Adrian Laing
The person behind the theorist

“My dad had an unhappy childhood”

“He loved sitting up on a stage, with disciples at his feet, being adored but never challenged. He loved being treated as a guru…He was an unpredictable, occasionally frenzied, father figure who acted with little regard for the consequences”

“My mother was furious about it. She had an unfathomable amount of resentment. Her expression for him was “the square root of nothing”

“I think his reputation took some blows in terms of the way he died, leaving behind 10 children and looking like an irresponsible father”

Adrian Laing
On Becoming Oneself

•“My relationship with him has improved greatly since his death’. ‘I’m very relaxed about him now

•“That’s been my therapy” (Describing his role as a father in contrast to his father)

“If he thought I was talking rubbish, his favorite expressions would be “psychotic” or “offensive”, and I would say: “Why don’t you just say you disagree with me, Dad?“

Natalie and Carl Rogers

Natalie Rogers
Positive experience regarding the prominent parent

“I think I grew up with one of the most profoundly ethical approaches to parenting that there is”

•“As a teenager, when I was rebellious, he was really there…I was heard—really listened to”

•“He was kind and loving

•“Carl was a verbal therapist and a revolutionary, a pioneer in his own way. And he has, even long after his death, been voted the most influential psychologist in America. His work was so profound…he changed the whole psychological counseling world

Natalie Rogers
Negative experience regarding the prominent parent

•“During the academic year we didn’t see a whole lot of him

“My dad always said, “I wasn’t a very good father when you kids were young,”. He was referring to the fact that he worked all day and mostly went to his study all evening

•“As a daughter, I always had some complaints about my father. Any kid does”

Natalie Rogers
On Becoming Oneself

Founded the Person-Centered Expressive Therapy Institute

“He became my mentor, and, of course, his theories of creativity were very important to me”

“I’m very client-centered and empathic, and am on the same wavelength as the client…And so like Carl, I stayed open to learning from my clients”

“The intent in expressive art—just as in client-centered therapy—is to peel away the layers of defense and find our true nature”

“And I do feel in some way that my integrating both Carl Rogers and Carl Jung in my work is part of my real contribution”

“So it was my addition, or expansion, to his work to invite people to get up out of their chairs”

Concluding remarks

•Following the completion of a descriptive report for this thematic analysis, I conclude with a few remarks, before moving to the next phase of my investigation:

•The majority of the individuals seemed to have two different ways in fulfilling their wish for emotional contact with their prominent parent. As a ‘dad’ or ‘mom’ who spent time with them and as a professional mentor.

•The theme of power was constantly found in all interviews, irregardless of the emotional position of the individual towards his prominent parent.

•The individuals that were hostile towards their prominent parent built a sense of themselves as completely different from him/her. The ones that were warmer chose to ground their personal and professional identity on their parent’s, but also expanded and integrated it with other influence and their own personal touch

Some further questions

•How critical is for the person and his feelings towards his father, if he was consistent as a theorist and a dad?

•How could the issue of power be addressed in the interviews?

•This charged dance between independence and differentiation, love and hate, heteronomy and autonomy, is it only when it comes to prominent parents? Is it present in all human relationships?

•How could I capture such an experience of an indispensable relationship and a journey? If ambivalence is always there, how could it be captured in the course of time? Maybe I should interview people more than once in the next phase

Personal Diary

It starts to seem unfair to judge these therapists as parents, as the standards in parenting seem to have increased massively in the last century.

I have worked with several people on understanding that for their parents, I have done 10 years personal therapy, but this conclusion, helps me I think more than ever to understand, de-idealise and forgive my parents.

Despite my sympathy for psychodynamic theories, I start to wonder whether they are also outdated in terms of parenting.

I start to realise again that my daughters will be wiser than me in the future!

Fanis & Dimitrios Karagiannis

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