Award Date

5-1-2019

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Psychology

First Committee Member

Russell T. Hurlburt

Second Committee Member

Christopher L. Heavey

Third Committee Member

Stephen D. Benning

Fourth Committee Member

Jennifer Keene

Number of Pages

336

Abstract

Inner experience is a frequent topic in psychotherapy and in psychology more broadly, yet very little research has carefully and systematically observed the naturally-occurring experience of psychotherapy clients. The current study begins to fill that gap by using descriptive experience sampling (DES) to survey the inner experience of a small sample of individuals seeking psychotherapy. DES is a method that uses a random-interval beeper to signal participants to pay attention to their pristine inner experiences—the thoughts, feelings, sensations, and so on that are directly apprehendable ‘before the footlights of consciousness’—and describe them in high fidelity. We used about eight days of DES with each of six clients presenting themselves for psychotherapy at a community mental health clinic. We had no hypotheses, preferring to allow characterizations and speculations to arise from the data. For example, three of our six participants had anomalous inner seeings containing features like arbitrary demarcations, explicit backgrounds or borders, and innerly-seen words, all of which are highly unusual among non-clinical DES participants. Such anomalous inner seeings have previously been observed in patients with schizophrenia. While none of those three participants had a serious mental illness, one dropped out of the study prematurely for fear that she was having a mental episode and needed psychiatric medication, and another had a family history of schizophrenia. These data suggest that atypical inner experiences—and maybe especially anomalous inner seeings—may be a marker or precursor of mental disorder. One participant had experience that was, in general, unclear and almost uniformly lacked a central feature or target of experience, also uncommon among non-clinical DES participants. Even more extreme, one participant did not confidently apprehend a single experience, suggesting that she may not have pristine inner experience at all. Knowledge of this rich variability in clients’ inner experience should be of value to psychotherapy.

Keywords

Basic science; Descriptive experience sampling; Inner experience; Psychotherapy

Disciplines

Clinical Psychology

Language

English


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