Original Research

A systems psychodynamic description of clinical psychologists’ role transition towards becoming organisational development consultants

Frans Cilliers, Sanchen Henning
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 47 | a1891 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v47i0.1891 | © 2021 Frans Cilliers, Sanchen Henning | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 February 2021 | Published: 07 June 2021

About the author(s)

Frans Cilliers, Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, College of Economic and Management Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Sanchen Henning, Graduate School of Leadership, University of South Africa, Midrand, South Africa


Orientation: Clinical psychologists’ transition from practising in a clinical context to a large organisation implies an intensely experienced professional identity shift.

Research purpose: To provide a systems psychodynamic description of the lived experiences of a group of clinical psychologists’ role transition towards becoming organisational development (OD) consultants.

Motivation for the study: Although the role of clinical psychologists in organisations is theoretically explicated, limited research exists on their role transition experiences. Their lack of theoretical knowledge about and experience in organisational psychology make them vulnerable for exclusion and isolation.

Research approach/design and method: A hermeneutic phenomenological research design using a collective case study, consisting of eight clinical psychologists, was used. The data gathering methods included a Listening Post and socio-analytic interviews. Systems psychodynamic data analysis was performed.

Main findings: The manifesting themes related to experiences of diverse and intense anxiety, defensive structures, role, task, boundary and authorisation conflicts as well as solitary pilgrimages. Participants experienced an attack on their personal and professional identities, a sense of being overwhelmed, excluded and isolated from their colleagues and peers.

Practical/managerial implications: The findings will facilitate clinical psychologists’ transition into OD roles and organisations’ awareness of their identity challenges.

Contribution/value-add: Although employing clinical psychologists in OD roles is practised in many large organisations, the findings suggest that their transition into this role is underestimated in terms of emotional intensity.


clinical psychologists; role transition; OD consultant; systems psychodynamics; qualitative; hermeneutic phenomenology


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