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Relationships, psychological distress and stigma: a counselling psychology perspective

Starnawski, Zoe (2015). Relationships, psychological distress and stigma: a counselling psychology perspective. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)


Research indicates that premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can have a negative impact on various areas of life, including interpersonal relationships, productivity and emotional well-being. Existing research in the area of PMS is largely quantitative and has been conducted using a positivist framework; the few qualitative studies undertaken have examined women’s individual experiences of PMS. Further, studies highlighting the relational impact of PMS have largely focused on marriage quality and have employed quantitative methods. These studies have investigated relational experiences of PMS from an individual perspective, or have looked at non-heterosexual relationship contexts, including lesbian relationships. Little attention has been paid to examining in depth, the relational experiences of heterosexual couples who experience PMS. The current study, therefore, aims to provide insight into the lived experiences of PMS among heterosexual couples by taking a qualitative approach. Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was used to explore the experiences of seven couples (14 participants) who either identified themselves or their partner as suffering from PMS. Semi-structured joint interviews were undertaken, in which the experiences of couples living together with PMS were discussed. The interviews were analysed using IPA and three superordinate themes emerged from the data: (1) The “curse” of PMS; (2) Connection and disconnection: the importance of communication and intimacy; and (3) Beyond the couple: social influences on the relationship. These themes support the conceptualisation of PMS as an overwhelming emotional experience that leads to confusion and isolation within the couple. It can also be seen as creating difficulties in communication, empathy and intimacy, which are reinforced by the social norms and stigma surrounding PMS. The current study aims to give a detailed relational account of PMS, which can be argued is missing from the existing literature. A perceived limitation of this study is its reliance on the joint accounts of a small sample of self-selecting cohabitating heterosexual couples. This could lead to various other couple relationships being excluded from the study. Nevertheless, the importance of the current findings and the implications for future research are discussed and suggestions for the clinical practice of counselling psychology are highlighted.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
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