Therapeutic Autoethnography: A Research Method for Psychotherapy

This article is an introduction to my recent research in psychotherapy. I have streamlined this qualitative research method which engages the practitioner as the researcher or autoethnographer. The aim is to share and gain insights into the phenomenon of the psychotherapeutic process from the live-in perspective of the therapist. Watch this site for the release of my doctorate thesis, which will be soon released.

therapeutic autoethnography, psychotherapy research, infographic
Therapeutic Autoethnography info

Lecture at CONFERENCE 2021

A Psychotherapist’s lived Experience in session. An Autoethnographic Case Study.


Here is the transcript of my lecture in the conference above:

I want to thank the organizers of this conference for inviting me today and the editors of the European Journal of psychotherapy and Counselling for accepting my article.

It is a pleasure to be here to share this aspect of my work. 

I work in Singapore, and the time here is now 6:30 pm.

PROFESSIONALLY I identify myself foremost as a practitioner of psychotherapy. Currently, tail end getting my doctorate the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna.

I can say that

Gestalt therapy found me when I was already in my 40s; by then, I had lived for more than a decade in Austria.

It was then that I stumbled into a Gestalt therapy workshop.

I was impacted by the contact I made with others at that workshop. Something happened. Something changed. I changed.

I am aware that that change didn’t happen just because several people grouped together. Change occurred because there were therapists there who were attuned to what was present; they were dedicated to the work. 

I consider myself lucky that the first therapists I met made such an impression on me.

My curiosity leads me to enrol in the university (after having left school 25 yrs before with a Biochemistry degree), I yearned to grasp what I had experienced. I tried to read about psychotherapy, how therapy works, and how therapists work. But nothing could justly explain my experiences as a client in those “magical moments” of treatment. 

So, years later, having put myself through Masters and now the doctorate program in psychotherapy science, 

I find myself still a seeker. 

Notice that I am not referring to myself as a researcher but a seeker of understanding

of what psychotherapy is… versus… what the world thinks psychotherapy is for…

of what therapeutic change is… versus… what kind of change is expected of therapy.

And this leads me

I am proposing a method of inquiry into the psychotherapy process featured in my doctorate dissertation.

My contribution to this issue of the EUJPC is a distillation of this work. 

There are two parts to this:

  1. the case story… which reflects a therapeutic encounter that is relevant to the topic of diversity, inclusion and the psychotherapeutic process. It a psychotherapy case study recounted from my lived-experience as the psychotherapist working with an asylum seeker from Afghanistan, with the help of a translator.
  2.  the method of inquiry that i used, is an adaption of Autoethnography.

I shall very briefly describe the research methodology, and then introduce the case story.

The method of inquiry that I use here is adapted from Autoethnography… which is a qualitative research method traditionally applied to social studies. 

To apply Autoethnography in psychotherapy case study …

I needed to make several definitions and differentiations

I give this method the name, Therapeutic Autoethnography

<< See the infographic>>

Therapeutic Autoethnography is what I would describe as an aesthetic inquiry and an aesthetic representation of the studied psychotherapeutic encounter. 

the result is a story, an art form, 

What you will not get is a report,or an analysis about what has happened in the session, 

but a story that evokes in the reader a sense of how it feels like to be there with the client in that encounter. 

<<Case story>>

It is entitled Undercurrent 

Is a story of diversity and the will for inclusion within the therapeutic encounter 

The case story that I have written for this issue is based on my experience working with a patient some years ago, with whom I shared hardly any word with.

Culturally we were different. 

This is the year 2018… before the COVID pandemic happened, It was the time of the refugee crisis in Europe .

Ali, the client, was about 30 years old, from Afghanistan, seeking Asylum in Austria.

He was brought to the psychotherapy clinic diagnosed with PTSD.

In this therapeutic field there was also the therapist, myself, and I am from SG. In this story, I am also the practioner and autethonographer.

Since we spoke in different languages, we were accompanied by a Translator, Zaya, who, was about my age, a mother of 2, and she was from Iran.

Together we were foreigners who happened to have met in Austria.

So you can appreciate how each of us in this encounter bring in our own phenomenological fields. ANd this is beyond language, gender, socio-status and culture.

In this article I weave the story from what I experienced in the sessions (which lasted 9 months) with Ali and Zaya, how we were moved even though language seemed a barrier. 

How we brought the suffering that was hidden to the surface.


Time here is too short to read the story; you can read it in the article.

But I shall share with you the concluding paragraph.

“We gathered for nine months, three months longer than we had contracted to work

together. In this field, a story and plot emerged. Ali’s plot toggles between contents of his past and his future. From his past we hear of his suicide attempts, the violent treatment he endured from his uncle, the friends he had lost in the war. We hear of his concern for the women he had left behind in Afghanistan who had protected him— his uncle’s wife, and the mother of his friend, also named Ali. We hear also of betrayal. Ali’s future promises hope, despair, and uncertainty. What we had together in the therapeutic situation was in the here-and-now, like a pivot, holding space in an undifferentiated situation.

One can see how 

The writing is different from other forms of academic writing, and it comes across as being an easier read.

Oftentimes Academic articles that are easiest to read are the hardest to write. in many sense… it takes courage and creativity to write reflexively.

Read the full article : Case Study using Autoethnography


Chew-Helbig, N. (2022). Writing evocative case studies: applying autoethnography as a research methodology for the psychotherapist. The British Gestalt Journal, 31(1), 35-42.

Chew-Helbig, N. (2022). A psychotherapist’s lived experience in-session with an asylum seeker and translator: An autoethnographic case study. European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counselling, 1-16.