Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name




First Advisor

Paivio, Sandra


Psychology, Adult survivors of abuse, Child abuse, Emotion focused therapy, Self, Trauma




This study is a qualitative approach to understanding how childhood abuse survivors experience and describe their sense of self, as well as how this experience of self changes over the course of therapy. Participants of the present study were adult clients engaging in Emotion Focused Therapy for Trauma (EFTT; Paivio &Pascual-Leone, 2010) to address psychological effects of childhood maltreatment. The data source was audio-recorded therapy sessions in which clients discussed their experiences of self. The author identified and selected excerpts from these therapy sessions that contained client statements about their experience of self (e.g., perceptions and feelings about oneself, sense of identity, self in relation to others, self-conscious emotions, changes observed in self). These session excerpts were transcribed and analyzed using a thematic analysis methodology (Braun &Clarke, 2006). Analysis of these session excerpts yielded three major themes addressing the experience of self of childhood abuse survivors: an unclear sense of identity, not participating actively in one's life, and feelings of worthlessness. In terms of the process of change over the course of therapy sessions, analysis of client statements yielded themes relating to shifting blame for the abuse from self to the perpetrator, allowing and expressing emotions, and becoming aware of how positive experiences of self are blocked or disallowed. Near the end of therapy most clients reported changes in their experience of self, including a sense of authenticity and being true to oneself, feeling in control of life choices, and increased selfacceptance. The various themes are described and illustrated with excerpts of client statements. The themes are discussed in relation to current theory and research on the effects of childhood maltreatment, and implications of these findings are explored.