Intensive CareDoctorate in Psychotherapy

Posted by Saphira Bjørnå Wahl Tue, April 08, 2014 16:54

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One month gone in a blink and the research process is moving ahead. In London where the above flowers were found, intensive care is most often associated with hospitals or hand lotions. In this case it means that I am experiencing intensive care for my research project and the gifts I experience are continuously being given to me on my step by step journey doing the research. The people I get to meet are a blessing in themselves, sharing knowledge, expertise and skill. Especially the experts involved in sharing their stories with me bringing an extra bonus with them in radiating a rare kind of beauty.

I am so grateful that choose qualitative and not quantitative research methodology. Currently having the opportunity to learn more about quantitative methods at SERAF (Norwegian Centre for Addiction Research) weekly taking part at their PhD supervision and tutoring, a complete set of other skills are required to administer a quantitative study. I see the value and respect the quantitative craft, but enjoy the qualitative approach being a more appropriate approach in my doctorate.

If I had chosen quantitative methodology I would not have had the opportunity to encounter the persons and have the in depth meetings I have. And not been able to partake in the profound wisdom that comes with this in depth semi-structured interviews in qualitative research. I have chosen qualitative research within the phenomenological domain which provides me with the opportunity to search for meaning of the so called ‘lived experience’ of a particular phenomenon.

The particular phenomenon under investigation is the lived experience of surrendering ones will and life to a Higher Power within the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step fellowship. Now being intimately acquainted with and immersed in the work I find it most interesting and that it provides what is termed data – or in other words - experiences, personal stories and perspectives so essential and intriguing to me as human being, as psychotherapist and as a researcher I am left almost speechless. I am half way through the process of interviewing and can’t wait to complete. For my psychosynthesis colleagues this phenomenon connected to working with the will aspects is a hidden treasure…

After having completed the interview the next phase will start. This next phase will include transcribing the audio files and starting to analyse and code one interview at the time. After each interview has been completed analysis across multiple cases can start.

My chosen method is Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) which was conceived through professor Jonathan Smith in 1997. What I like the most about IPA is that it stays close to originals data and requires excerpts from the data to underpin findings and arguments. Interested in IPA – check out:

A central concept when doing phenomenological research and in particular IPA is having an awareness of reflexivity. Integrating a reflexive stance throughout the transcription phase, the analysis and the discussion is central to remain transparent. This is important to monitor biases and help the reader to place the researcher within her chosen epistemology (the study or theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge) and ontology (Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality). In short the researchers belief system in which she places herself and the glasses through which she looks to analyse the data. Partly the researchers view is of course influenced by knowledge derived from the literature review, previous research and clinical experience.

So with eight interviews of 60-90 minutes of data, the next few weeks will easily fill the soundproof multilayered bubble I am currently in – pushing almost everything else outside. But it’s a great bubble to be in at the moment...

So fellow readers, colleagues, friends, students – enjoy spring and the spring flowers...

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Fast Track to the VivaDoctorate in Psychotherapy

Posted by Saphira Bjørnå Wahl Sat, March 08, 2014 17:57

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After having returned from a wonderfully spring warm and sunny March London having received approval of my project plan or so called Learning Agreement and crossed the bridge to the final part of the doctorate, writing this next post comes with much joy and gratitude.

Soon approaching one year since my last post the process has moved along significantly. Life was up for a personal transition the last year, relocating me to a new home and moving my private psychotherapy practice to a different location. These transitions are amongst other blessings that have entered my life this year. I had a sense that 2013 had something exciting up the sleeve for me but still it took me by surprise.

Now well back into the doctorate I am sooo happy to find myself at a point where I am launching into the 2nd and last module of the doctorate and will shortly be doing the actual research. It has been a long and arduous journey but the research project plan or so called Learning Agreement has finally been accepted by Middlesex University / Metanoia Institute. This constitutes the long awaited ‘green light’ to do research. The working title of my doctoral research and development project is:

An investigation of the dynamics of the personal will

versus a Higher Power in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

12-step treatment of Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

I am so eager to continue I find it hard to sit still. The excitement that made me apply for the doctorate in the first place (2010) has resurfaced and I can’t wait to conduct the interviews and dive into the data and start the actual analysis which will be such an interesting journey of discovery. I am absolutely fascinated by the phenomenon of the will and especially related to 12-step treatment and program of substance abuse. Now, why is this?

Well, there is little research found connected to the paradoxical phenomenon found in AA and 12-step treatment of ‘surrender’ signifying the shift from 'willfulness' to 'willingness'. Even if there have been developed measurement devices by researchers to measure the degree of surrender or degrees of spiritual transformation at different stages of treatment to predict relapse, almost noone has gone in depth with how this relates to the dynamics of the personal will in treatment of SUD in this context.

I would think it is rather central and important to understand more about how our will works related to substance abuse treatment. Some of the questions I pose are the following: What are the psychological mechanisms present with the perceived idea of giving a benevolent force authority over one’s personal will? What are the dynamics of the will resulting from the perceived idea of an external or internal power taking authority? What knowledge can be derived from the lived experience of deciding to surrender one’s will and life to a higher power (AA 3rd step)? If I decide to surrender my will, who in me is making the decision?

I have chosen a qualitative approach and use phenomenological methodology. I will shortly collect data through in depth interviews with eight participants and then start analyzing the data using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Gosh, I’ve been longing to get here…

So ‘In Depth Interviews’ is the next stop on the doctoral express train towards my final destination:

The Viva in London 2015 (viva in Norwegian: disputas)

Till next time - enjoy spring!
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Picture taken in London 7th March 2014

(top photo; Embankment skyline, London)

An Uexpected TurnDoctorate in Psychotherapy

Posted by Saphira Bjørnå Wahl Tue, March 19, 2013 13:22

An Unexpected Turn

As you may have noticed, life has the tendency to surprise us with unexpected twists and turns. I had another one of those last autumn when I was about to roll up my sleeves and dig into the 3rd semester of the doctorate signifying the start the second module of the study programme.

It was August 2012 and the contract for another study year was signed and posted. I was determined to go ahead. ‘Ahead’ is a good word in this connection, because it was only my head wanting this. In late august I sat down with my laptop to start working on the next piece to be written. My mind was already at work but my hands and arms would not lift. I froze discovering that my body would not respond to my mental urge to study. I slowly realized that I had no strength left. I was exhausted... from the constant study pressure, from my father’s illness and recovery, and from a multitude of other challenging life circumstances. I had no alternative but to take a break and take time off from studying!

The autumn felt like it moved slowly and quickly at the same time. It felt mildly uncomfortable not being part of the group I had been for two years knowing they would proceed with their projects and I could'nt. During the long winter evenings I sought mostly other sources of inspiration than the academic to help myself. Music has always been a universe of relief and recovery for me, and I deeply thank the musicians and artist that have created and performed songs and music for me to sink into whenever I need. An integrated part of recovering for me has been to sing and find ways to express my emotions through singing. This is a continuous and ongoing journey which slowly is developing. Singing challenges in a good way as well as it heals.

We’re now in mid March 2013 and in the last few weeks, a renewed interest and curiosity has emerged linked to my future research. I have even had flashes of feeling that I miss studying. It feels a bit weird when I see myself writing this considering how exhausted I’ve been, but it’s true, I miss digging deeper into the topic that fascinates me and I miss the joyful feeling that accompanies having new insights and making discoveries.

So here we go... I look so much forward to visiting London again this summer, connecting with my peers again and jumping on the DPsych train with destination: Dissertation 2015.

Enjoy your Easter Holiday.

To be continued..

What a Relief!Doctorate in Psychotherapy

Posted by Saphira Bjørnå Wahl Wed, July 18, 2012 14:13

One year has passed.. what a year! Since my previous blog early July 2011 much has taken place internally and externally not to mention on the national and international arena. The thread of my doctoral journey is steadily being woven even though the thread has been dangerously fragile at times.

After dispatching four papers with deadline end July 2011, all part of completing the Research Module, having survived the emotional devastation of the massacre of 22nd July, I patiently and nervously waited for the results.

Meanwhile I decided to participate at the ISAM (International Society for Addiction Medicine) conference in Oslo early September and learnt a lot about addiction medicine, but also the life of a researcher and the mentality and social codes of that particular universe of researchers. Central interpersonal unspoken themes seemed to consist of ‘achievements’, ‘quantitative research’, ‘titles’, ‘positions’, ‘positioning’ and ‘networking’. I did my little share of networking and had the pleasure of connecting with Norwegian and Israeli researchers within my field of interest which was hugely inspiring.

End September 2011 I received the verdict. I had passed on 3 out of 4 papers. The fourth received the dreaded result; ‘resubmission’. Shock! Now I had only one opportunity to improve it. I tried to pull myself together and started the tedious work of rewriting. I was well into the process when my father suffered a severe cardiac arrest in mid November. The studies were paused as my care and attention went to him. Miraculously he recovered and had a heart surgery the day before Christmas. I resumed my studies the last week of December 2011 and went back to days with up to 16 hours of study work. On New Years Eve I closed my computer at 01.30 am as I had finished the next version of the ‘Draft Research Proposal’ and sent it to my academic adviser. I soon had it returned with challenging feedback and more work to do. When it was finally submitted end May 2012 I think I had rewritten it 5 times. When it left my tired hands I felt I had done everything – everything I was capable of and that I had done my utmost. If I did not pass this time I felt I would have to accept that I was not worthy of being a candidate, but at least I had given it my best.

Parallel to studying and running my private practice, I was working in closed psychiatric ward which had been extremely challenging. This was partly due to the nature of the work itself but also due to reorganization amongst the 6 psychiatric units at the hospital causing uncertainty and unpredictability for the staff. This has caused great distress for me the last year and added to the pressure. Currently the universe seems to signal that it is time for me to move on to something else, and so I welcome new opportunities.

The International Psychosynthesis Conference in Rome, Italy in June 2012 has been a welcome source of inspiration and a wonderful opportunity to meet old and new colleagues and friends. It reconfirmed what I have felt so many times; I love psychosynthesis! Simple as that! At the conference I got the opportunity to present my research idea which was met with curiosity and enthusiasm.

End June 2012 I finally got the result of my resubmission and was congratulated on having passed the ‘Draft Research Proposal’ which was the last piece to complete the first part of the doctoral program, the Research Module. What a relief! All the blood, sweat and tears were worth it! I made it!!

Now the third year is soon approaching and so is the next deadline coming up mid October. Next on the agenda is completing the ‘Learning Agreement’ which is a detailed project plan for conducting the intended research and demonstrating the level of sophistication expected in doing so. This is to be handed in by 19th October and a few weeks later to be presented orally to the Program Approval Panel with representatives from Middlesex University in London. So, got to get my acts together and do the work!

The research focus has organically been developing in the prolongation of my interest and fascination with the paradox of the personal will versus a so called ‘higher will’ in substance use disorder and treatment, and so the formulation of my research focus is currently:

“A phenomenological exploration of the lived experience of surrendering to a Higher Power in the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step treatment of Substance Use Disorder.”

To be continued..

Wishing you a great summer,


Pressure..!Doctorate in Psychotherapy

Posted by Saphira Bjørnå Wahl Thu, July 07, 2011 13:22


The 7th of July 2011 is already here and with it our Scandinavian summer which changes and shifts constantly our precious summer days rushes by! Just as changing and shifting as life itself.

The heading of my previous blog was ‘riding on a Jet Plane’, and since then it feels like I have gone through the sound barrier being on that metaphorical plane. Parallel to riding the doctoral wave, I have changed career arena from 1st of March and there is yet another shift coming up from early August. It is as if my soul is in a hurry to manifest the right environments for me facilitating the growth I am undergoing. The spring has been extremely challenging on different levels, but I believe the last three months has birthed a stronger foundation and preparedness for the arena I have entered and am entering further into being a doctoral candidate.

Catching up from my previous blog, the visit to Hazelden, Minnesota was hugely inspiring and it was a delight to experience their level of proficiency in offering treatment for substance abuse for the clients there and their families. Hazelden was an incredibly friendly environment to visit mirroring their fundamental spiritual approach to life and their attitude towards substance abuse treatment.

These days the first year of the doctoral journey is about to come to its end and with that a challenging year with a steep learning curve academically and professionally. The pressure has been constant and high and will continue to be so until 1st of August with deadlines to meet end July. The program expects proficiency and that we deliver the goods up to doctoral standard. If one should fail to meet requirement on a written assignment, one has one opportunity to resubmit. If you fail on resubmission you are not able to continue on the doctorate… High performance is expected.

This year as a candidate has amongst other things consisted of deepening my knowledge of research methods and research mentality, and looking into research criteria on a doctoral level. The year has consisted of working towards achieving clarity around ones research project and the doctoral thesis and end product. In my case, looking into substance abuse treatment in general and in Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step modality in conjunction with psychosynthesis in particular, much ground work has been and is being conducted the build an informed platform to continue from. Presently 10-14 hours pr day of study time is needed along with a lot of persistence and self discipline. Coffee breaks outside in the sun and occasional walks in the nearby woods are welcome and necessary treats to air my brain and nurture my soul. Presently it seems as if the doctorate is living me, not I living the doctorate.

Thanks for popping in! Enjoy summer, swim, laugh, eat and drink! I will too… later.

Till next time!



On a Jet PlaneDoctorate in Psychotherapy

Posted by Saphira Bjørnå Wahl Sat, February 12, 2011 11:45

Welcome Back!

Since the peaceful and contemplative space of Christ Mass, life has moved on at a high speed and the image most representative for this experience is that of being on a Jet Plane. I'm moving and moving fast! The destination is set and it is not an option to get off. Just keep the seatbelt fastened and keep my attention and awareness in the present moment. The ride feels great!

More concretely related to the journey of the doctorate, the space that I am presently travelling through is that of getting more intimately acquainted with research in general and more specifically qualitative research methods. Qualitative research methods as such may seem dry and insurmountable, but my experience is that immersing in the thought constructs and building blocs of the various methods is very inspiring indeed. Adding to the inspiration is the presence and commitment of our lecturers and the adventurous and curious nature of exploration I feel I am invited to investigate. Part of the holding is my 10 peers in the cohort, all co creating a warm, friendly and supportive environment.

Parallel life has offered a perfect frame for exploring in depth my theme of interest which still is 'The lived experience of recovering alcoholics' lived experience of residential AA 12-step treatment in conjunction with psychosynthesis treatment in a group setting'. The frame is a Norwegian rehabilitations clinic, 12-step treatment based, where I will have the opportunity to work as M.D. and through that do the interesting and exciting work of the doctorate surrounded by enthusiastic colleagues.

Prior to the onset of my new position a real plane is taking me to Minnesota shortly to visit Hazelden Foundation to learn more about the so called Minnesota-model. It will be hugely interesting to learn more about Hazelden's continuously updated and contemporary treatment and research on substance abuse and recovery from addiction.

A natural consequence of the development of the doctorate is that my daily life includes reflection, reading, reflecting more, formulating questions, find sources of knowledge related to the questions and writing my research journal documenting the internal dialogue and conceptual development related to formulating the thesis.

It adds to the Jet Plane feeling that the thesis itself is due in about 26 months which is a short time span considering the amount of work ahead to reach the academic level required to fulfil the expectation of professional excellence in the chosen field.

Snow covered seeds lay vibrating with joy approaching the time creation offers new life as spring is quickly approaching.

Till next time - Go Well!


Christ MassDoctorate in Psychotherapy

Posted by Saphira Bjørnå Wahl Sun, December 19, 2010 17:03

Welcome to my Christ Mass update.

As we are approaching Christmas, we are also approaching the days of the year with fewest daylight hours here in the northern hemisphere. It's well past 3 pm and the magic 'blue hour' when daylight turns into winter darkness has begun. The cold, the darkness this time of year and the snow together create the perfect frame for the peace of mind I need to be able to centre myself and concentrate on study work.

At least 10 lit candles gives warmth to my living room, and my thoughts turns to the philosophical grounds of the concept of 'scientific research'. Simultaneously I am reviewing my own relation to research pondering upon where that influence started for me. This takes me back to a small school library, in a tiny countryside community in Norway where I grew up. The library had a scientific book about metaphysical phenomenon with answers to questions I struggled with that no one else could give answers to at the time. I entered a fantastic universe then. I must have been 13...

Time fly by in my memory looking back and in the present time with each week passing by like airport express trains. Time.. time management was a theme introduced by our lecturers recently, the ability to manage time related to the chosen task. I certainly need to work on that skill, and try to follow the advice to organize life around the DPsych and not vice versa.

When I last met with my cohort, we where told that being a candidate on a DPsych includes the feeling of being on the edge. I understood this to be the process of development into identifying with new knowledge revising old perspectives and even old values which in turn can give a feeling of being incompetent. It gave solace to the feeling being deskilled in this phase of developing new skills, to see the 'help, what do I have to offer' feeling in the context that this is growth.

These are transformational times for me where new opportunities have risen as a consequence of studying towards a doctorate. 2011 will give new and exciting challenges professionally and immanently and transformatively as a candidate. I sense that my personal growth will take place on many more different levels and ways than I ever could have imagined.

In closing I want to come to the heading of this update, Christ Mass and the significance and beauty of this time for me. This time of year is reminding us of the arrival of Christ represents for me amongst other things Compassion, Light and Peace. Mass represents for me the inner church or holy inner space where these qualities reside. This is where I want to find myself the next couple of weeks.

The ‘blue hour’ has passed and the heavenly ceiling have turned into dark blue velvet.

Till next time - enjoy Christ Mass, I wish you a Magical Celebration.


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Preparing for an upgraded versionDoctorate in Psychotherapy

Posted by Saphira Bjørnå Wahl Sun, October 24, 2010 10:15

Hi - and thanks for dropping by! Here's an update. Have a nice stay.

A couple of weeks have passed since my previous blog. I have dived into information of different kind about the doctorate, registered in various sites and slowly come out of the feeling of overwhelm. My head i surfacing and is again above water.

What I am gradually realizing is that entering into this doctorate is not just about reading, writing and conducting research - it's so much more. It is about upgrading myself to a certain mentality that goes with being a senior practitioner and studying towards what is termed 'Professional Exellency' in my field. It is a mindset that includes honouring oneself for having arrived at this level of competency and at the same time stepping into more of ones personal authority. It is about leadership. It is about seeing oneself as part of a wider community of researchers and candidates and using the environment to exchange ideas and information around our different projects. Being part of this kind of enviroment includes seeing oneself as a capacity. So, here I am preparing to manifest an upgraded version of myself.

Parallelly the last week has been very inspiring as I have the opportunity to observe how treatment is conducted at a drug/alcohol rehabilitation institution. This institution operates from a version of the Minnesota model and AA's 12-step program. My placement there is stretching over a period of 5 weeks with 4 weeks to go, and has already inspired new ideas and reflections.

At a time of the year when the hours of daylight are growing shorter and darkness is more present, the opposite movement is taking place inside of me. The sense of being at the right place at the right time nurtures my inner flame and inspirational light.

Thanks for staying with me. Till next time..

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How it all started..Doctorate in Psychotherapy

Posted by Saphira Bjørnå Wahl Sun, October 10, 2010 15:19

A dream.. never thought possible to realize, now no longer just a dream..

In March 2006 I entered the challenging task of completing a Master of Arts in Psychosynthesis Psychotherapy offered by the University of East London through The Psychosynthesis and Education Trust in London. This transformational journey was survived and completed in May 2009 with the support and help from friends and family.

The main focus of the MA dissertation was a simple research project with the following focus:

"An exploration of recovering alcoholics' lived experience of residential AA 12-step treatment and program in conjunction with psychosynthesis in after care in a group setting"

Once or twice the thought crossed my mind that it would have been very interesting to explore this further considering the intersting results the research gave.

February 2010, less then a year later, a so called coinsidence led to the onset of a yet another adventure entering into a new and unknown territory.

One evening I had a chat with a colleague I had not seen for quite a while. He was reading what seemed a thick and heavy academic book. He told that he was actually in his final stage of his doctorate through an English university. My ears sharpened and the whole conversation resulted in me looking up their website and hungrily reading about post 'qualification doctoral programmes' offered by Middlesex University through Metanoia Institute in London.

Working my way through the information on the net I realized that this could actually mean a possibility for me as this doctorate was open for senior practitioners at masters level 'from a wide range of theoretical orientations and practice'. Goosebumps grew on my skin!

Next step was to write an application (extensive), attend a Briefing Seminar in London end April and be accepted for a personal interview with Head of Post-Qualification Doctorates Department. This all went well, and late June I received a formal offer for a place on the doctorate. Fantastic!

The starting date was set to 8th October 2010 for the Induction. Arriving London after flight delay with a hightened pulse I was warmly received by the staff and got to meet the 10 peers and co-travellers to embark on the 3 year long (at a minimum) journey with me.

I got to meet my academic adviser who, to my joy and relief, is Swedish! Wonderful! We were given a 200 pages thick handbook to aquaint us with the content of the doctorate and anything and everything we need to know about what it entails. An impressive and sophisticated handbook I must say!

Now to the work - 1st step a written submission stating a Review of Personal and Professional learning to be assessed by the DPsych Assessemnt Board... Oops! This is getting serious!

I will be blogging regularly and irregularly as I go along. Thanks for your interest.

C U smiley