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Dating with a Spinal Cord Injury: An IPA Study

Airey, C. (2018). Dating with a Spinal Cord Injury: An IPA Study. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) primarily affects young adults and approximately 52.3% of people are single at the time of injury (Spinal Cord Injury Facts, 2013). Several studies have revealed negative attitudes towards disabled individuals, particularly when asked to view them as a potential romantic partner (Chen, Brodwin, Cardoso & Chan, 2002; Rosenthal, Chen & Liveh, 2006; Hergenrather & Rhodes, 2007; Miller, Chen, Glover-Graf & Kranz, 2009; Marini, Chen, Feist, Flores-Torres & Del Castillo, 2011). Physical disability has also been found to interfere with establishing and maintaining romantic relationships (Howland & Rintala, 2001; Taleporos & McCabe, 2001a).

While previous literature has explored the impact of an SCI on marriages and existing relationships, very little research has attempted to explore the challenges and limitations of being single and dating with an SCI. The paucity of literature concerning the experience of dating with an SCI is concerning, considering that approximately 50,000 people in the UK are currently living with this type of injury (Spinal Cord Injury Facts, 2013).

This study aimed to explore the impact of dating with an SCI by asking six spinally injured women to describe their lived experience of dating post-injury. Data was collected using open-ended semi-structured interviews and were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Participants’ experiences clustered into four superordinate themes: a) Dating as a Journey; b) Challenges to View of Self; c) Perceived Societal Attitudes and d) Dating Concerns. The empirical findings suggest that dating after spinal injury is complex and process orientated. Participants reported an initial grieving phase during which time dating was not a priority. As participants moved further through the process of coping, they were able to be more open to the prospect of dating. Participants also reported being affected by the negative expectations of others, including gender stereotypes. They also explored the issues of disclosure and control in relation to dating. These findings are discussed in relation to existing literature and research. In addition, aspects of the participants experienced are considered in terms of their practical use in creating workshops for newly injured spinally injured patients on topics such as body image, sexuality and dating. Implications for counselling psychology and for further research are explored.

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