The Bloomsbury Colleges | PhD Studentships | Studentships 2018 | Professional identity, migration and psychotherapy
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Professional identity, migration and psychotherapy: the politics of knowledge and professional practice for migrant psychotherapists working in the UK

Principal Supervisor: Dr Claudia Lapping (UCL Institute of Education)

Co-Supervisor: Professor Stephen Frosh (Birkbeck, University of London)

Project description


In the context of the current massive movement of people across continents, this psychosocial project explores the shaping of professional identities of migrant psychotherapists who came to the UK as a direct consequence of conflict and dictatorship in the second half of the 20th century. The experiences of these professionals will shed light on a variety of questions about:

  • The effects of migration on professional careers and practice
  • The role of professional institutions and trainings in the development of migrant professional identities
  • Possibilities for migration to influence professional knowledge in changing social, political and economic contexts
  • The effects of experiences of conflict and political engagement on professional identities

Individual psychotherapeutic practitioners seeking refuge in the UK from oppressive regimes in, for example, Latin America and South Africa followed contrasting trajectories: some taking up key positions within professional organisations; others needing to adapt or retrain to establish a career. Their experiences are relevant to migrants in other professional fields and to understanding the significant impact of migrants on the development of professional practice in psychotherapy.

The study will be informed by work across several fields. Research in applied linguistics, education, psychosocial and migration studies highlights cultural, educational and linguistic expectations that affect migrants’ access to professional work. The sociology of knowledge maps how these expectations are shaped by shifting national and international policies, economic relations, and the effects of neoliberal market imperatives imported into the public sector (Bernstein, 1990). Psychosocial studies has produced recent historical and interview research into the experiences of psychoanalysts during periods of dictatorship, offering insights into modes of political engagement that motivate migration (Rubin et al, 2016). These studies suggest a multiplicity of conflicts in professional identities, and correlative ruptures in professional knowledge.

These tensions can be traced in the complex international, political and intellectual affiliations of UK professional psychotherapeutic training institutions. The career trajectories of migrant practitioners are shaped by their positioning within this complex and shifting web of intellectual, economic and political values; and, in turn, practitioners’ experiences of migration may influence these intersecting dimensions of professional practice.

Methodologically the project will draw on free associative approaches to the construction of research data in the field of psychosocial studies (Lapping, 2016). These approaches permit relations between different dimensions of participants’ experience to emerge; and are sensitive to the role of affect, which can be interpreted via sensitivity to subtle emphases, repetitions and disruptions within participants’ accounts. The analysis of the affective dimension produced through free associative approaches will constitute a novel contribution to understandings of migrant professional identities.


To explore the professional identities of migrant psychotherapists in the UK and their relation to contrasting dimensions of professional knowledge, politics and practice


  • To produce accounts of the experiences of migrant psychotherapists
  • To map linguistic, educational, cultural, political and affective dimensions that emerge in participants’ accounts
  • To identify relations between these multiple dimensions and migrants’ careers
  • To explore possibilities for migration to influence professional knowledge in changing social, political and economic contexts
  • To foreground the role of affect in the construction of migrant professional careers and of psychotherapeutic knowledge and practice

Proposed methodology

The study will be rooted in emerging innovative psychosocial research methods. It will involve a series of in depth, narrative or free associative, individual and/or small group interviews with psychotherapists who migrated to the UK as a consequence of conflict or political oppression. The focus of the interviews will be on eliciting narratives and associations related to participants’ professional experiences pre- and post-migration, allowing space for reflection and for consideration of a range of personal and social aspects of these experiences. The analysis will draw on psychosocial frameworks to a) identify significant themes/discourses/ dimensions; and b) explore contrasting relations to these themes/discourses.

Subject areas/ keywords

Psychosocial studies, psychoanalytic studies, migration, professional identity, qualitative research, psychotherapy, sociology, diaspora studies

Candidate requirements

While the broad parameters of the research are set, we are seeking a strong doctoral candidate who will be able to take the initiative in shaping the project to explore their personal intellectual objectives. Applicants will need to demonstrate clear interest and commitment to at least one of the following fields of research:

  • Migrant experience and identity
  • The professional development of psychotherapists and/or psychoanalysts
  • Professional knowledge and identity
  • Qualitative interview methodologies
  • Psychosocial and/or narrative research
  • Psychoanalytically informed research
  • Psychosocial Studies

The successful candidate is expected to have a Master’s degree in a relevant field in either the social sciences or humanities, normally including an independent, research based dissertation. Candidates without a Master’s degree but with relevant experience and a strong interest in the project will be considered.

Key References

  1. Frosh, S. (2010) Psychoanalysis outside the Clinic: Interventions in Psychosocial Studies. London: Palgrave.
  2. Lapping, C. (2011) Psychoanalysis in Social Research: Shifting theories and reframing concepts. London and New York, Routledge
  3. Lapping, C. (2016) ‘Reflexivity and Fantasy: surprising encounters from interpretation to interruption’. Qualitative Inquiry, 22:9, 718-724
  4. Lapping, C. and Glynos, J. (2017) ‘Psychical contexts of subjectivity and performative practices of remuneration’, Journal of Education Policy,
  5. Rubin, A., Mandelbaum, B. and Frosh, S. (2016) ‘No memory, no desire’: Psychoanalysis in Brazil during Repressive Times. Psychoanalysis and History, 18, 93-118

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Further information

Further information about PhDs at UCL and Birkbeck is available below:

The successful student will be registered at: UCL Institute of Education

How to apply

Instructions for applicants

Candidates are required to submit a Bloomsbury Colleges PhD Studentships Application form. Application forms and details about how to apply are available from: Adele Stapylton-Smith.

Queries about the application process should be sent to: Claudia Lapping.

The personal statement on the application form should explain:

  1. Your reason for wanting to do a doctorate.
  2. Your relevant experience and interests in relation to the project
  3. Any initial ideas in response to the project outline

You will also be asked to provide transcripts of your previous study/qualifications and two confidential references.
The completed form should be returned to Adele Stapylton-Smith by the deadline.

Deadline for applications: Friday 16th March

Interviews to be held: 26th/27th March