The Role of Narrative Incoherence in the Persistence of Mental Illness

Report
Anthony Papathomas, Loughborough University
David Lavallee, Aberystwyth University
Contact: [email protected]
 Part of a general PhD thesis
on athletes’ experiences of
living with eating disorders
 A narrative life history of
an athlete with an eating
disorder
 Unstructured interactive
interviews produced over 7
hours of data
 Narrative analysis of
content and structure
 The need to construct an
understanding of why
mental illnesses happen
to us
 The impact of this
understanding on
continued experiences of
mental illness
 Human experience is made meaningful through the
stories we tell of ourselves, our life narratives
(Polkinghorne, 1988)
 We causally link biographical events into a coherent
narrative whole that gives meaning to experience
 This often creative process has been called
“emplotment” (Ricoeur, 1990), as it places experience
into a coherent plot
 When an event occurs that
cannot be explained, an
experience that goes
against our projected life
paths, narrative coherence
is lost, there is no plot
 e. g. Traumatic events,
Chronic /Serious illness
 Narrative incoherence is
associated with
psychological distress such
as despair and identity loss
 20 year old student and
elite basketball player
 Previously bullied by
school teacher for not
achieving to level of
older brother
 Continued history of
chronic self-starvation
and clinical depression
well as far as I know or am concerned it all just hit at
that one time and the sort of abuse that I was getting
from that teacher set the ball rolling and I just feel it’s
clearly still affecting me in some ways now and I can
only blame that on not having…like I can’t close, for
everyone else it’s just done and past but I can’t close
the book on it because I was never told why it
happened. I was never sat down and talked through,
no one ever asked me how I was feeling, it was just
“you’re clearly going off the rails in some cases here’s
some anti-depressants and things will be fine” it was
just never, even up to today it’s not been dealt with.
well as far as I know or am concerned it all just hit at
that one time and the sort of abuse that I was getting
from that teacher set the ball rolling and I just feel it’s
clearly still affecting me in some ways now and I
can only blame that on not having…like I can’t close,
for everyone else it’s just done and past but I can’t
close the book on it because I was never told why
it happened. I was never sat down and talked
through, no one ever asked me how I was feeling, it
was just “you’re clearly going off the rails in some cases
here’s some anti-depressants and things will be fine” it
was just never, even up to today it’s not been dealt
with.
I think there’s always going to be a kind of what if?
What if they’d (parents) been a bit more supportive
rather than fobbing me off to the doctors a little bit
and just…I don’t know whether they just didn’t know
how to deal with it or were embarrassed or what?
I think there’s always going to be a kind of what if?
What if they’d (parents) been a bit more supportive
rather than fobbing me off to the doctors a little bit
and just…I don’t know whether they just didn’t know
how to deal with it or were embarrassed or what?
I’m not really making progress with it. I’m just kind
of…I’m not even dealing with it I’m just kind of going
along day to day with it rather than trying to you know
move on from it and I don’t think that’s something I
can do on my own but where to go from there I just
don’t know…you know I’m doing what I can but it’s
clearly not, me doing it isn’t really progressing
anywhere.
I’m not really making progress with it. I’m just kind
of…I’m not even dealing with it I’m just kind of going
along day to day with it rather than trying to you know
move on from it and I don’t think that’s something I
can do on my own but where to go from there I just
don’t know…you know I’m doing what I can but it’s
clearly not, me doing it isn’t really progressing
anywhere.
 Inability to place traumatic events into a coherent
explanatory narrative plot can lead to the persistence
of mental health difficulties
 Opportunities to tell one’s story can facilitate the
process of narrative re-construction
 Narrative therapy, which prompts new or different
ways of storying life experience, should be explored as
a viable treatment option
Anthony Papathomas, Loughborough University
David Lavallee, Aberystwyth University
Contact: [email protected]

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