A Phenomenology of Early Career Psychologist Self-Care: Exploring the Lived Experiences of Alumni from One Psy.D. Program

Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Research Paper

Degree Name



Graduate School of Professional Psychology

First Advisor

Artur Poczwardowski, Ph.D., CMPC

Second Committee Member

Gwen Mitchell, Psy.D.

Third Committee Member

Thomas Olson, Ph.D.


Self-care, Burnout, Stress, Early career psychologist, Phenomenology, Training

Publication Statement

Copyright held by the author. Permanently suppressed.


The author conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with four early career psychologist alumni from a Psy.D. program at a university in the western part of the United States. Interviews were designed to develop: (a) a more contextualized, process-oriented understanding of self-care and burnout, and (b) insight into participants’ experiences of self-care training throughout graduate school. Interviews were shaped by Functional-Contextualistic and Existential worldviews, transcribed, and analyzed according to Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Participants discussed their felt experiences of self-caring, which disclosed the five E’s of self-care: ‘Energized,’ ‘Engaged and Empowered,’ ‘At Ease,’ and ‘Open to Experience.’ They also discussed opposing experiences, which uncovered one overarching theme: ‘Disempowerment: Weighed Down Versus Pushed Around.’ Overall, participants’ accounts revealed a novel conceptual framework for self-care as: (a) cultivating liveliness through choosing to connect with self and others, (b) empowerment: freedom to choose how to use time, occupy space, and navigate distance (at a given moment), and (c) a fluid, contextually sensitive process that is defined by function, not form. Interestingly, this appears related to their values and views about what a good life entails, which emphasized ‘Connection’ and ‘Autonomy.’ Finally, participants recalled experiences of self-care messaging throughout graduate training, which exposed two main themes: (a) “Lip service” to self-care: empty words and double binds, and (b) Supervisor-supervisee relationships and power dynamics influence self-care. These insights and the inductively derived conceptual framework for self-care developed in this study may be expanded upon in future research and used to improve training self-care as a core professional competency.


67 pgs

Paper Method

Case Study

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