Young people’s perceptions of fat counsellors: “How can THAT help me?"

Moller, Naomi and Tischner, Irmgard (2019). Young people’s perceptions of fat counsellors: “How can THAT help me?". Qualitative Research in Psychology, 16(1) pp. 34–53.



Being fat is widely recognised as a stigmatised identity which disproportionately impacts women - personally and professionally. Women are numerically dominant as therapy practitioners, and we use this group to explore the ways a ‘fat counsellor’ is imagined in the context of counselling. A qualitative story completion task, about a woman starting therapy, was presented to 203 British young people aged 15-24. Participants were 75% female, 88% white, 93% heterosexual, and 98% able-bodied. The story stem did not specify the sex of the counsellor, who was identified as fat; the vast majority of stories assumed the counsellor was female. Overall, fatness was perceived as negatively impacting therapy, and the counsellor’s professional credibility, because fatness was equated with a lack of psychological health, which rendered fat counsellors professionally ‘unfit.’ This finding extends the literature on ‘weight bias’ in professional settings and has implications for counsellors of all body sizes.

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