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'Handle with care': Working 'wisely' with the shamed client: An evidence-based exploration of the transformation of meaning

Haskins, Jessica


Jessica Haskins


Toxic shame is experienced as an extremely painful affective state where both external and internal worlds are seen as persecutory, and this drives many other emotional experiences and can hinder therapeutic growth. This thesis is a scoping study that considers how toxic shame experiences might be transformed in therapy through using ‘Wise’ interventions, an exciting development borne out of social psychological research (Walton, 2014). Wise interventions work on underlying psychological processes to change the meaning of subjective experiences. Two rapid evidence assessments were conducted; one to explore how shame is experienced between therapist and client, and the second on what works in reducing toxic shame in therapy. These findings were synthesised to inform creation of a range of intervention techniques based on ‘Wise’ principles, which were refined through consultation with five counselling psychologists in training.

Seven themes were produced from the experiential review, covering aspects such as identity, fear, and relational ruptures. The review on shame reduction found limited evidence of impact, but provided a range of therapeutic modalities from which to draw strategies. Consultees noted that the research brought insight in to experiences that might be tapping in to shame, and welcomed ‘Wise’ strategies that might help alleviate and transform clients toxic experiences.

The thesis provides a tentative first step in producing Wise interventions that would benefit from further, broader consultation, and testing in therapeutic settings. They provide a novel way of thinking about, and working with, shame, especially in pluralistic/integrative therapy. The principle driven nature of interventions means that they may have wide applicability given that the shame experiences discussed can occur in a broad range of contexts and may underpin a range of psychological problems, impacting on the efficacy of therapy. Further implications and caveats around Wise interventions in relation to counselling psychology are discussed.


Haskins, J. 'Handle with care': Working 'wisely' with the shamed client: An evidence-based exploration of the transformation of meaning. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Feb 7, 2019
Publicly Available Date Feb 7, 2019
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