Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

A recent report presents the results of a survey of counsellors, psychologists and psychotherapists on the topic of synchronicity experiences: “Synchronicity in the Therapeutic Setting: A Survey of Practitioners,” by Elizabeth C. Roxburgh, Sophie Ridgway, and Chris A. Roe (Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 16, 44-53).

Elizabeth Roxburgh 4

Dr. Elizabeth Roxburgh

Chris Roe 2

Dr. Chris Roe

Here is the abstract:

Aims: In this study, we intended to explore whether there are any differences between counsellors, psychologists and psychotherapists in the reporting and interpretation of synchronicity experiences (SEs) in the therapeutic setting. SEs are defined as psychologically meaningful connections between inner events (such as a thought, vision or feeling) and one or more external events occurring simultaneously or at a future point in time. Design: An online survey link was emailed to a random sample of counsellors, psychologists and psychotherapists drawn from membership lists of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), British Psychological Society (BPS) and the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). The survey was designed to investigate the following research questions: do practitioners report SEs in the therapeutic setting? Are there any differences between types of practitioners in terms of explanations for SEs? Were SEs believed to be more likely to occur at certain points in therapy? Results: A total of 226 respondents completed the survey. One hundred respondents (44%) reported that they had experienced synchronicity in the therapeutic setting, of whom 55 were psychotherapists, 21 counsellors and 24 psychologists. The majority of respondents (67%) felt that SEs could be useful for therapy. Statistical analysis revealed significant differences between practitioner types in their interpretation of SEs but no differences in perception of when synchronicity events were likely to occur. Conclusion: Findings have important implications for how practitioners may respond to clients who report SEs and are discussed alongside suggestions for future research.

The authors concluded:

“Just under half of all respondents (44%) in this survey reported that they had experienced synchronicity in the therapeutic setting . . . This finding has implications for practitioners in terms of raising awareness that such experiences are commonly reported in the therapeutic process and that consequently they should not fear discussing these experiences within training, supervision or the therapeutic encounter. In addition, the majority of participants (67%) in the current study felt that SEs could be useful . . . Whilst participants made brief comments about SEs in terms of what they found helpful there was insufficient data to undertake a qualitative analysis. Therefore, in a follow-up study, we sought to investigate this further with in-depth interviews using interpretative phenomenological analysis that aimed to explore how practitioners make sense of SEs . . . Participants in this study felt that SEs provided useful opportunities for therapeutic intervention by drawing attention to aspects or features of the therapeutic process that were valuable foci for reflection. They also believed that SEs could serve to strengthen the therapeutic relationship, could push through resistance and could tap into the unconscious or express what was in conscious awareness but was difficult to speak . . .”

“The finding that psychotherapists were more likely to report SEs than counsellors or psychologists confirms previous research which proposed that such experiences are more likely to occur in psychotherapy given that unconscious processes are a common feature of psychotherapeutic work . . . This warrants further research around whether SEs do actually occur more frequently in psychotherapy or whether psychotherapists are simply more likely to notice and use them in the therapeutic process. Related to this is the question of whether some settings are more conducive to SEs . . . We propose that synchronicity reporting should not necessarily be associated with psychopathology; rather, it might be a product of psychosocial contextual factors, such as therapeutic training in the case of psychotherapists.”

“Observed differences between practitioners in their favoured explanations of synchronicity might also reflect differences in therapeutic training. Psychotherapists and counsellors were significantly more likely than psychologists to agree that synchronicity occurred because of a need for unconscious material to be expressed or because of a collective unconscious. In addition, psychotherapists were significantly more likely to agree that SEs occur due to transference, countertransference and the therapeutic relationship, and psychologists were significantly more likely to agree that SEs are chance coincidences that individuals sometimes ascribe meaning to . . .”

“Further research is currently being conducted by the first author to explore how therapists respond to clients who report such experiences in therapeutic sessions, whether clients feel listened to and understood, and whether therapists believe there is a need for specialist training to address such experiences.”