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The role of empowerment in recovery from the experience of severe psychological distress: A grounded theory exploration

Fenton, Kate


Kate Fenton


Empowerment has been identified as important in recovery from severe psychological distress by policy makers, mental health services and by service users. However, while there has been a huge amount of research into the role of empowerment in recovery for people with severe psychological distress, constructions of mental health and illness differ regarding the factors involved in recovery and what encourages empowerment. In addition, much of the research in this area has been conducted by professionals; the process of empowerment has yet to be explored and delineated from the perspective of the service user. This research aims to explore the role of empowerment, and conversely disempowerment, in recovery from the severe psychological distress which involves the experience of hearing voices or having unusual beliefs which have led to overwhelm. A social constructionist grounded theory methodology was adopted using two methods of data collection: semi structured interviews with 8 service users and 12 narrative accounts written by authors in recovery. Findings indicated that participants were disempowered by invalidating and events and relationships. This led participants to attempt to cope with distress and voice hearing by disconnecting from themselves, from other people and from their feelings. Compensatory fantasies regarding power were often developed as a way of coping with disempowerment. These strategies tended to be unsuccessful and participants became increasingly overwhelmed, losing a coherent sense of self and eventually became socialised into becoming a ‘mental patient’ and surrendering control to professionals. Conversely, participants became empowered through feeling validated in their relationships with others, with their voices and with themselves. Participants made connections socially through forming more understanding relationships, reintegrating parts of themselves and understanding voices through relating them to past experiences. Through this people gained an increased sense of autonomy and purpose found it easier to accept themselves and their voices.
Recommendations for practice are made and areas for further research suggested.


Fenton, K. The role of empowerment in recovery from the experience of severe psychological distress: A grounded theory exploration. (Thesis). University of the West of England

Thesis Type Thesis


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