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Writing a Counselling Case Study

As a counselling student, you may feel daunted when faced with writing your first case study. Most training courses that qualify you as a counsellor or psychotherapist require you to complete case studies.

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Before You Start Writing a Case Study

Writing a counselling case study - hands over a laptop keyboard

Important: Make sure you understand what is required by your awarding body before you set out doing your case study.

However good your case study, you won’t pass if you don’t meet the criteria set by your awarding body. So before you start writing, always check this, making sure that you have understood what is required.

For example, the ABC Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling requires you to write two case studies as part of your external portfolio, to meet the following criteria:

  • 4.2 Analyse the application of your own theoretical approach to your work with one client over a minimum of six sessions.
  • 4.3 Evaluate the application of your own theoretical approach to your work with this client over a minimum of six sessions.
  • 5.1 Analyse the learning gained from a minimum of two supervision sessions in relation to your work with one client.
  • 5.2 Evaluate how this learning informed your work with this client over a minimum of two counselling sessions.

If you don’t meet these criteria exactly – for example, if you didn’t choose a client who you’d seen for enough sessions, if you described only one (rather than two) supervision sessions, or if you used the same client for both case studies – then you would get referred.

Check whether any more information is available on what your awarding body is looking for – e.g. ABC publishes regular ‘counselling exam summaries’ on its website; these provide valuable information on where recent students have gone wrong.

Selecting the Client

When you reflect on all the clients you have seen during training, you will no doubt realise that some clients are better suited to specific case studies than others. For example, you might have a client to whom you could easily apply your theoretical approach, and another where you gained real breakthroughs following your learning in supervision. These are good ones to choose.

Opening the Case Study

It’s usual to start your case study with a ‘pen portrait’ of the client – e.g. giving their age, gender and presenting issue. You might also like to describe how they seemed (in terms of both what they said and their body language) as they first entered the counselling room and during contracting.

Counselling case study - Selecting the right client for your case study

Some clients are better suited to specific case studies than others. Choose well.

If your agency uses assessment tools (e.g. CORE-10, WEMWBS, GAD-7, PHQ-9 etc.), you could say what your client scored at the start of therapy.

Free Download: Writing a Case Study - 5 Tips

Describing the Client’s Counselling Journey

This is the part of the case study that varies greatly depending on what is required by the awarding body. Two common types of case study look at application of theory, and application of learning from supervision. Other possible types might examine ethics or self-awareness.

Theory-Based Case Studies

If you were doing the ABC Diploma mentioned above, then 4.1 would require you to break down the key concepts of the theoretical approach and examine each part in detail as it relates to practice. For example, in the case of congruence, you would need to explain why and how you used it with the client, and the result of this.

Meanwhile, 4.2 – the second part of this theory-based case study – would require you to assess the value and effectiveness of all the key concepts as you applied them to the same client, substantiating this with specific reasons. For example, you would continue with how effective and important congruence was in terms of the theoretical approach in practice, supporting this with reasoning.

In both, it would be important to structure the case study chronologically – that is, showing the flow of the counselling through at least six sessions rather than using the key concepts as headings.

Supervision-Based Case Studies

When writing supervision-based case studies (as required by ABC in their criteria 5.1 and 5.2, for example), it can be useful to use David Kolb’s learning cycle, which breaks down learning into four elements: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation.

Rory Lees-Oakes has written a detailed guide on writing supervision case studies – entitled How to Analyse Supervision Case Studies. This is available to members of the Counselling Study Resource (CSR).

Closing Your Case Study

In conclusion, you could explain how the course of sessions ended, giving the client’s closing score (if applicable). You could also reflect on your own learning, and how you might approach things differently in future.

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