Personal agency of the therapist: A multidimensional construction of the selves of marriage and family therapists

Date of Completion

January 2006


Health Sciences, Mental Health




This dissertation describes 2 studies of Therapist Personal Agency among Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) trainees. Using Social Cognitive Theory as a base, a theoretical model of Therapist Personal Agency was constructed, combining the influences of Therapist Self-Efficacy, relationships in the families of origin and creation, therapist development, supervisory relationship, peer relationships, client relationship, and psychological state. Study 1 tested this model through an online survey of MFT trainees across the United States and Canada. Analysis of several structural equation models revealed that all proposed factors, except peer relationships, were significant aspects of Therapist Personal Agency. An exploratory factor analysis of survey items yielded a four-factor model consisting of: Therapist Development (developmental level and self-efficacy), Family of Origin intimacy and fusion, Supervisory Support/Anxiety (supervisory relationship and psychological state) and Client Relationship. Study 1 also tested the supposition that Therapist Self-Efficacy would be the most important part of Therapist Personal Agency. This supposition was not supported. Instead, Training Environment variables and the Supervisory Support/Anxiety factor were shown to have the highest regression weights. Study 2 tested whether Therapist Personal Agency significantly affected therapist performance as reported by supervisors and clients, and whether Therapist Personal Agency was a better predictor of performance than Therapist Self-Efficacy. Supervisors reported on intervention skills and supervisory working alliance, while clients reported on working alliance and impressions of therapists' personality and professionalism. Data was collected via pen and paper surveys from therapists (and their clients and supervisors) training at several programs in southern New England and from some participants from Study 1. Reliable analysis was impossible, however, due to a very poor return rate. Limitations to these studies included a small sample size (125 for Study 1, 19 for Study 2) and homogeneity within the samples. Trainers and supervisors of MFTs are encouraged to be attentive to the factors of personal agency, and future research is recommended in order to more accurately study the relationship between Therapist Personal Agency and performance. As the factors and correlates of Therapist Personal Agency and performance are discovered, the gaps between training, self of the therapist, and performance may be bridged. ^