Projective Identification and the Fear of Failing: Making Sense of Practice Educators' Experiences of Failing Social Work Students in Practice Learning Settings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University of East London
  • Oxford Brookes University


The study focuses on emotional processes that may arise for practice educators when working with struggling or failing students in practice learning settings. Informed by a thematic review of the literature exploring the phenomenon of ‘failing to fail’, the study draws on two UK qualitative studies that highlighted the emotional distress experienced by practice educators when working with a marginal or failing student. The study draws key examples from these prior studies and argues that the psychoanalytic concept of projective identification offers a plausible and illuminating account of the states of mind experienced and reported by some practice educators in the ‘failing to fail’ dilemma. The notion is proffered as a conceptual framework for practice educators to explore and apply to their own practice as a means of making explicit unconscious states of mind, helping to recognise and rationalise these, thus supporting confidence in making appropriate assessment decisions.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-154
JournalJournal of Social Work Practice: Psychotherapeutic Approaches in Health, Welfare and the Community
Issue number2
Early online date30 Oct 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • failing students , practice educators , emotions , projective identification , containment , reflection