John Hills


John is a practising counsellor undertaking PhD research into psychotherapies for people that present with embodied distress – typically first observed as somatic symptoms. Somatic symptoms are real physical symptoms that are triggered or aggravated by psychological factors such as stress or anxiety. These symptoms can sometimes be described as psychosomatic, somatoform, somatisations, functional syndromes, conversion disorders and medically unexplained symptoms.  

As a practitioner-researcher, John's PhD project is a multi-case study describing his own work with people presenting with somatic symptoms, and he has recently undertaken a qualitative synthesis of published case study research in this area. The core questions underpinning the project are: what does change look like, and how is change facilitated? Additionally, John is interested in longitudinal patterns of change, the use of subjectivity in psychotherapy research, and dialogical and contextualist approaches to psychotherapy and psychotherapy research. 

In 2018 John presented a study on reflective practice in research and psychotherapy to the European Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, in Belgium. This trip was supported through a Leeds for Life Conference Award; joint-funded by the University of Leeds and Santander. John also presented at the Society for Psychotherapy Research's International Conference at the Vrij Universiteit, Amsterdam; and this trip was supported by an SPR Student Travel Award.    

The most recent co-authored work with John's PhD supervisors explores 'Indices of Change' in psychotherapy with respect to the concept of 'indexicality' from semiotic theory - how might it help to shape analysis of case data? 

John's primary supervisor is Dr Jane Cahill - see Dr Cahill's university page at

John is also supervised by Dr John Lees of the University of Leeds and Professor Dawn Freshwater of the University of Western Australia.   

See John's ResearchGate profile at: 

John's recent presentations and other PhD related content can also be accessed via  

Research interests

Practitioner research

Change process research

Longitudinal change in psychotherapy

Qualitative synthesis of case study evidence

Subjectivity in psychotherapy research

Research groups and institutes

  • Mental health (Healthcare)