Fragilising clients: A positioning analysis of identity construction during clinical psychology trainees' supervision

Samantha Schubert, Lynn V Monrouxe*, Niels Buus, Caroline Hunt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


CONTEXT: Western mental healthcare system reforms prioritise person-centred care and require clinicians to adjust their professional positions. Realising these reforms will necessitate clinicians-including clinical psychologists-acquiring professional identities that align with them. Learners develop professional identities through socialisation activities: within interactional spaces such as supervision learners come to understand the self (clinician) and, by extension, the other (client). A clinician's understanding of who I am is intertwined with an understanding of who they are. Our study offers a moment-by-moment examination of supervision interactions of clinical psychology trainees to illuminate processes through which the identities of therapists and clients are constructed.

AIM: We examined how clinical psychology trainees and supervisors construct identities for themselves and clients in supervision.

METHODS: We used positioning analysis to explore identity construction during interactions between supervisors (n = 4) and trainees (n = 12) in a clinical psychology training clinic. Positioning analysis focuses on the linguistic choices participants make as they position themselves (and others) in certain social spaces during everyday interactions. Twelve supervision sessions were audio recorded and transcribed. We found that clients were frequently positioned as fragile and subsequently analysed these sequences (n = 12).

RESULTS: Clients' identities were constructed as fragile, which co-occurred with clinical psychologists' claiming positions as responsible for managing their distress. Supervisors played an active role in linguistically positioning clients and trainees in this way. Trainees rarely contested the identities made available to them by supervisors.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION: We suggest that linguistically positioning clients as fragile perpetuates paternalistic clinical discourses that do not align with mental healthcare reform priorities. We make visible how this is achieved interactionally through language and influenced by organisational power relations. Intentional efforts are required to support the professional identity construction of clinical psychologists in ways that do not perpetuate paternalism. We offer recommendations for education and clinical practice to support these efforts.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMedical Education
Pages (from-to)338-353
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Humans
  • Psychology, Clinical/education


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