View From the Therapy Room

Constructive Feedback: Cringey but Crucial!

Errolie Sermaine 7th June 2024
Constructive Feedback

Constructive feedback is an essential component of the training and professional development of counsellors worldwide. It’s not just about correcting mistakes but about fostering a deeper understanding of self, enhancing counselling skills, and cultivating empathy. British theorists, such as Donald Winnicott and Michael Balint, have provided valuable insights into the dynamics of feedback and its importance in the therapeutic setting.

Self-awareness is a fundamental quality for counsellors, as it allows them to understand their own emotions, biases, and reactions, which can influence their interactions with clients. Constructive feedback is a powerful tool in this regard. By receiving objective, honest, thoughtful feedback, trainees can gain insights into their behaviour and its impact on the therapeutic process.

Donald Winnicott, a renowned British psychoanalyst, emphasized the importance of self-awareness in therapeutic work. He introduced the concept of the “true self” and the “false self,” suggesting that therapists must be in touch with their true selves to provide genuine and effective therapy (Winnicott, 1960). Constructive feedback helps trainees identify instances where their false self might be at play—where they might be projecting their insecurities or biases onto their clients. This awareness allows them to adjust their behaviour, leading to more authentic and effective therapeutic relationships.

Feedback sessions can also reveal unconscious patterns that trainees might not be aware of. For example, a supervisor might notice that a trainee consistently avoids discussing certain topics with clients. By bringing this to the trainee’s attention, the supervisor helps them explore and understand these avoidance patterns, fostering greater self-awareness and professional growth.

The practical application of counselling skills is another area where constructive feedback is invaluable. Trainee counsellors learn various techniques and interventions during their training, but the ability to apply these skills effectively in real-life situations requires practice and refinement, which is facilitated by feedback.

Michael Balint, another influential British psychoanalyst, highlighted the significance of understanding the therapeutic relationship and the techniques employed within it (Balint, 1957). Balint’s work with general practitioners emphasized the importance of continuous learning and adaptation in therapeutic practice. Constructive feedback provides trainees with specific, actionable insights into their use of counselling techniques. For instance, a supervisor might provide feedback on a trainee’s use of open-ended questions, body language, or reflective skills. By receiving this targeted feedback, trainees can refine their techniques, enhancing their overall competence and confidence.

Role-playing exercises or live skills practice triads/dyads followed by constructive feedback are particularly effective in this regard. These uncomfortable but necessary learning activities allow trainees to practice their skills in a controlled environment, where they can receive immediate, constructive feedback. This iterative process of practice and feedback helps trainees internalize the techniques and become more adept at using them in real-world situations.

Empathy is a cornerstone of effective therapy. It involves understanding and sharing the feelings of clients, which is crucial for building a therapeutic alliance and fostering a safe, supportive environment. Constructive feedback plays a pivotal role in helping trainee therapists develop and enhance their empathic abilities.

Winnicott’s concept of the “holding environment” is particularly relevant here. He suggested that therapists need to create a space where clients feel held and understood (Winnicott, 1965). For trainee therapists, developing this capacity requires an understanding of their own emotional responses and the ability to attune to the emotions of their clients. Constructive feedback can highlight moments where a trainee may have missed an opportunity to show empathy or where their responses might have inadvertently alienated the client. By reflecting on this feedback, trainees can become more attuned to their clients’ emotional states and improve their empathic responses.

Moreover, feedback that focuses on emotional attunement helps trainees learn how to navigate complex emotional landscapes. For instance, a trainee might struggle with managing their own discomfort when a client expresses intense emotions. Feedback can provide strategies for maintaining presence and empathy in such situations, thereby enhancing the trainee’s ability to provide effective emotional support.

Carl Rogers, pioneer of person-centred therapy, believed that feedback for trainee therapists should be empathetic, non-judgmental, and supportive, reflecting his core principles of unconditional positive regard, congruence, and empathy. Dave Mearns and Brian Thorne, prominent figures in contemporary person-centred therapy, also emphasize that feedback for trainee therapists should be deeply rooted in the core conditions along with respect.

Rogers emphasized that feedback should foster a safe, trusting environment where trainees feel valued and understood, promoting their personal and professional growth. He advocated for a collaborative approach, encouraging self-reflection and mutual respect in the feedback process. This aligns with his belief that effective learning and therapeutic practice stem from authentic, empathetic interactions that enhance the trainee’s self-awareness and capacity to connect deeply with clients (Rogers, 1951).

Similarly, Mearns and Thorne believe that effective feedback should not only focus on skill development but also on the personal growth of the trainee. They advocated for feedback that fosters self-awareness and self-acceptance, aligning with the core principles of person-centred therapy. This approach ensures that trainees feel valued and supported, enhancing their ability to form authentic, empathetic connections with clients (Mearns & Thorne, 2000).

Mick Cooper, an influential figure in contemporary existential psychotherapy, believes that feedback should be collaborative, transparent, and framed within a supportive relationship to foster growth and learning. He highlights that feedback should not only address specific skills and competencies but also encourage self-reflection and personal development. Cooper asserts that constructive feedback helps trainees integrate theoretical knowledge with practical application, enhancing their therapeutic effectiveness and personal authenticity. This approach aligns with his broader emphasis on relational depth and the co-construction of meaning in therapeutic practice (Cooper, 2008).

Constructive feedback is indispensable in the training and development of therapists. By fostering self-awareness, enhancing counselling skills, and cultivating empathy, it equips trainees with the tools they need to become effective and compassionate therapists. The insights of theorists like Winnicott, Balint and Rogers underscore the profound impact of feedback on the therapeutic process. As trainees navigate the complexities of therapy, constructive feedback serves as a guiding light, helping them grow into skilled, self-aware, and empathetic professionals. In this way, feedback not only shapes the individual therapist but also enhances the overall quality of care provided to clients, contributing to the betterment of mental health services in the UK as a whole.


· Balint, M. (1957). The Doctor, His Patient and the Illness. Churchill Livingstone.

· Rogers, C. R. (1951). Client-Centred Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications, and Theory. Houghton Mifflin.

· Cooper, M. (2008). Essential Research Findings in Counselling and Psychotherapy: The Facts are Friendly. Sage Publications.

· Mearns, D., & Thorne, B. (2000). Person-Centred Therapy Today: New Frontiers in Theory and Practice. Sage Publications.

· Winnicott, D. W. (1960). The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment: Studies in the Theory of Emotional Development. International Universities Press.

· Winnicott, D. W. (1965). The Family and Individual Development. Tavistock Publications.

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Author Biography:

Errolie Sermaine is a BACP and NCS Accredited Counsellor and Clinical Supervisor. Since qualifying she has run a successful private practice and worked for a variety of organisations. She is also a fully qualified teacher and trainer with a wealth of experience of designing and delivering a huge a range of courses. Passionate about training counsellors, she has been the Clinical Supervisor for several Professional Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling courses, as well as the Designated Safeguarding Lead and Curriculum Manager for an Outstanding adult education provider.
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Please note that all beliefs, views and opinions expressed within guest writer articles are solely those of the guest writer and do not reflect the beliefs, views and opinions of London School of Counselling, this website or its affiliates.
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