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Listening for what is not allowed to be said: counselling psychology, discourse and women’s experience

Curran, H. (2021). Listening for what is not allowed to be said: counselling psychology, discourse and women’s experience. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


This study has sought to problematise a lack of woman-oriented, female-subjective discourse constituting birth within social discourse. It endeavoured to map out how postnatal women in the UK draw upon available discourses to construct their experience of birth with each other, with a view to further understanding how this might shape, or indeed limit, the way women are able to subjectively experience birth. A social constructionist epistemology and a critical realist ontology underpinned the work, and a Foucauldian discourse analytic approach was considered an appropriate methodology with which to respond to the research aims. Three focus groups, each comprising four postnatal women, were held to generate talk about their childbirth experiences. What emerged from the analysis was that, in the absence of a complex discourse which constitutes birth fully as a physiological, emotional and psychological process in which the birthing woman is positioned centrally as a subject, women drew upon a range of different discourses (medical, natural, trauma, business), which positioned them multiply, in order to attempt to construct and gain subjective access to different fragmented, aspects of the birth experience. The dynamic ways women sought to position themselves will be considered. By exploring what could, and could not, be gained, experienced and said from these different positions, the potential for an alternative discourse on birth, one which might embrace the power, liminality and complexity of birth and in which the birthing woman is more actively made subject, rather than subjected, will be discussed.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Helena Curran Portfolio DPsych Redacted EWC.pdf]
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