Date of Award

10-5-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Lafreniere, Kathryn

Keywords

Helper Response, Help Seeking, Mixed Methods, Q Methodology, Social Reactions, Violence Against Women

Abstract

For women who experience abuse, seeking help is a significant event that many women undertake in attempts to increase their safety or to gain support from others. Most women who experience abuse disclose to or seek help from the people in their lives. They turn to family members, friends, coworkers, and other people for informal support. Researchers have recently recognized, however, that the reactions that women receive from their informal supporters are not necessarily experienced as helpful or positive. Abused women may experience these social reactions from their informal helpers as positive, negative, neutral, or ambivalent. The purpose of this study was to investigate abused women’s as well as nonvictims’ perspectives on what constitutes helpful responses to help seeking. To accomplish this goal, a Q-methodological study was undertaken. Sixty participants – 32 women who had experienced abuse in a relationship with a man, and 28 non-abused women and men took part. Participants completed background questionnaires and were asked to sort 87 social reactions to abuse disclosures along a continuum from most to least helpful for a woman who experiences abuse. Participants also completed interviews that focused on their reasons for sorting the reactions the way that they did and about their perspectives on help seeking and helper response more generally. Centroid factor analysis with varimax rotation was used and revealed three interpretable factors. These perspectives were labeled: (a) agency and understanding, (b) advice and information, and (c) action orientation. The agency and understanding perspective was characterized by a focus on a woman’s emotional and volitional needs and may be analogized to the survivor centric approach in feminist literature. The advice and information perspective prioritized offering women knowledge-based support above other forms, and the action-oriented perspective placed primacy on a women’s physical safety needs before attending to other concerns. The perspectives that emerged in this study varied substantially regarding the kinds of social reactions to disclosures that were viewed as most helpful. However, there was substantial overlap across perspectives on unhelpful reactions. Additionally, the three perspectives map closely onto standard conceptualizations of emotional, informational, and tangible social support. The elaboration of these perspectives may have important implications for designing educational and skills-based intervention programs for supporting women who experience abuse.

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