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‘Putting into words my experience.’ Mental health service users’ experiences of therapeutic groups

Barley, C. (2016). ‘Putting into words my experience.’ Mental health service users’ experiences of therapeutic groups. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


This study explores the experiences of attending a therapeutic group from the perspective of the group participants who have a severe and enduring mental illness. The study aims to illuminate previously hidden personal experiences of the psychological processes involved in engaging with a therapeutic group, which appear absent from mental health literature and research.

This qualitative research involved nine secondary care mental health service users, five men and four women, aged from thirty to seventy, who took part in semistructured interviews which were transcribed and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. The analysed data is therefore ideographic, from a bottom-up perspective, consisting of the researcher’s interpretations of the participants’ experiences. The research participants attended a range of facilitated therapeutic groups which were run for several months or more and which did not include agenda-led, time-limited psycho-education and behavioural groups. An independent audit of themes was included to increase validity.

Three superordinate themes emerged: ‘Emerging from the Maelstrom’; ‘Unveiling’ and ‘Resoluteness in Life’, and each superordinate theme consists of several interrelated subordinate themes. Participants experienced their groups as ‘sanctuaries’ and presented their own recovery more positively than their group peers. Participants’ experiences included challenging their group facilitators’ leadership skills and enacting recovery and independence from their group. Participants experienced managing the intrusion of mental health symptoms and developed shared strategies to deal with feelings of invalidation, allowing them to become future focused and able to fulfil their goals. Participants’ experiences of their therapeutic groups are considered in relation to literature, research findings and theoretical models applied to mental health. Limitations, further research and clinical implications for group facilitators are discussed.

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