Why therapists should walk the talk: The theoretical and empirical case for personal practice in therapist training and professional development

J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2019 Mar;62:133-145. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2018.08.004. Epub 2018 Oct 4.


The key proposition of this invited essay is that personal practice (PP), coupled with self-reflection, is central to the development of the most effective therapists. To date, the discussion about personal practice in therapist training and professional development has largely revolved around the value of personal therapy, subscribed to by some schools of psychotherapy but not by others. However, since the turn of the century a new landscape of personal practices for therapists has emerged. In particular, two forms of personal practice, meditation programs and self-practice/self-reflection (SP/SR) programs, have developed a growing evidence base. Here it is proposed that there is now a strong theoretical and empirical case to accord personal practice an explicit role in therapist training and professional development. The case rests on recent research suggesting that: (1) personal and interpersonal qualities of therapists play a key role in client outcomes; and (2) personal practice is the most effective way to achieve changes in therapists' personal and interpersonal qualities. It is suggested that the research agenda needs to move beyond asking whether or not personal practice is effective towards a more sophisticated set of questions: what personal practice, facilitated by whom, is most effective with which practitioners, in what contexts, at what point in time? To make further progress, trainers and researchers need to be supported to include personal practices in therapist training and to undertake research to evaluate their impacts.

Keywords: Mindfulness; Personal practice; Personal therapy; Self-practice/self-reflection; Therapist effects; Therapist training.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Health Personnel* / education
  • Humans
  • Mindfulness*
  • Practice, Psychological*
  • Professional Competence*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Psychotherapy* / education
  • Self Concept*