Susan James

Associate Professor

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Third route kids: A new way of conceptualizing the adult third culture kid experience (2013)

The current conceptualization of Adult Third Culture Kids (TCKs) is challenged and reconceptualised as Third Route Kids (TRKs) through both an extensive analysis of the current literature on TCKs and through an ethnographic study of four adult TCKs. The study involved utilizing thematic analysis of focus groups with four TCKs. Six themes were identified: The Problematics of Being Asked Where You are From, Relationship with Self, Relationship with Others, Relationship with Society, TCK Culture, and Global Awareness. These findings are integrated with current research on TCKs. They also challenge the current conceptualization of culture and cultural sensitivity that is utilized in counselling psychology. Suggestions for future research are also made.

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Spiritual and relational dimensions of parental grieving (2011)

This study explored relational and spiritual dimensions of parental grieving. Five bereaved parental couples participated in three sets of interviews over the course of approximately three months. The guiding research question for this study was, “how do spiritual/religious bereaved parents grieve jointly for their deceased child?” Data was collected using the qualitative action-project method and participants were asked how they grieved together for their deceased child and how their spirituality impacted their joint grieving. Joint grieving processes were identified and monitored over approximately three months. The data analysis was informed by the qualitative action project and an instrumental case study method. Joint grieving was described and enacted as goal-directed activities, including both planned and unplanned grieving actions and intended towards the development of an ongoing, relational representation of the deceased child and towards the authentic and vibrant relationships with the partner and the Divine. Joint grieving was facilitated through engaging in joint grieving rituals, sharing individual grieving actions with one’s partner, and accepting the individual grieving style of the partner. Joint grieving was impeded by experiences of disconnection from the significant others, and by various life extraneous stressors. The joint grieving projects were irreducibly related to the spiritual lives of bereaved parents. Their faiths shaped the continuing bonds with their deceased children, offered comfort and spiritual meaning in the midst of suffering and provided an avenue to express disappointment and anger over their loss. The findings offer theoretical, empirical and clinical import for the multi-disciplinary study of parental bereavement.

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Lost in translation : an ethnographic study of traditional healers in the Açorean (Azorean) islands of Portugal (2008)

This interdisciplinary research project investigated the process of healing utilized by Açorean Portuguese traditional healers. The purpose was to facilitate an understanding of this process for multicultural counselling practices in North America. The theoretical framework is informed by medical anthropology and the work of Arthur Kleinman (1980, 1987). Kleinman has been called an ethnographer of illness because of his belief that suffering is social and, as such, culturally constructed. He contends that without consideration of the experience of suffering and the social aspects of suffering, health care practitioners face poorer outcomes in treatments (Kleinman, 2005). The current ethnographic study was carried out in the Açorean Islands of Portugal and asked the following research question: How do traditional healers in the Açorean Islands facilitate wellness in people suffering from illness? Illness was defined as the personal experience of physiological and/or psychological disease or distress (Kleinman, 1980). This research contributes to the growing body of knowledge dealing with multicultural counselling as follows: a) it adds knowledge by contributing an in-depth description of Portuguese Açorean traditional healers, which was previously absent from the counselling psychology literature: b) it expands on existing research to further explicate the significance of suffering in the world for Portuguese Açoreans and the role traditional healers play in witnessing this suffering; and c) it highlights the multifaceted impact of language when English speaking counsellors work with second language English speaking clients.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Brief mindfulness training for counselling psychology students: Effects on self-compassion and reperceiving (2013)

Teaching mindfulness to counselling students may provide another avenue for developing their clinical skills. Current research supports the idea that mindfulness can be beneficially introduced into graduate training in counselling. How and why this training should take place remains an underexplored phenomenon. The current study investigates whether a brief introduction to mindfulness training and practice can impact counselling students’ ability to take a compassionate attitude toward themselves (self-compassion) and their ability to be a witness to their own experience (reperceiving). Participants received one hour of training in mindfulness practices and then took part in 15 minutes of these practices each week before they saw clients in their first clinical experience. Two studies were conducted, each using different approaches to test the question of whether this intervention could have an effect on self-report scores in self-compassion, reperceiving and/or mindfulness. In study A, a concurrent, repeated measures design found indications that self-compassion scores increased after 12 weeks of mindfulness practice but did not find any changes in reperceiving or mindfulness scores. In study B, a concurrent, single-case design found no evidence to support a functional relationship between the intervention and any of the three dependent measures. Limitations in study design may be the cause of this insufficiency. Overall this project provides evidence for increases in self-compassion scores after one semester of brief mindfulness practice while no changes were found in reperceiving or mindfulness scores.

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Graduate counselling psychology students' experiences of mindfulness mediation & gratitude journalling (2013)

Stress-impacts, both short and long term, are well-documented occupational “land-mines” that counsellors navigate throughout their careers (Baker, 2003; Guy, Poelstra, & Stark, 1989). Novice therapists and trainees are particularly vulnerable to these effects (Shapiro, Brown, & Biegel, 2007). Protective practices to prevent impairment and distress are paramount; one significant antidote is through self-care (Baker, 2003), having positive impacts both personally and professionally (Elman, 2007). Mindfulness is naturally linked with self-care through cultivating self-regulation and self-awareness, balancing interests related to self and others, and through coping (Shapiro et al. 2007). Emerging research with health care professionals, including trainees, shows benefits both personally and professionally (e.g. Davis & Hayes, 2011). Gratitude, considered theoretically to be linked with mindfulness, also has self-care roots. This emotion is considered within a cluster of traits associated with wellness and health (McCullough, 2002); not suprisingly, then, a causal relationship between well-being and gratitude is established (Nelson, 2009). Despite this research, counselling training programs have historically done little to offer trainees self-care strategies (Baker, 2003).In order to address these gaps, using a qualitative design with thematic analysis, a 15-minute mindfulness meditation and gratitude journalling intervention was conducted with 9 graduate counselling psychology students. Data was collected and analyzed from the weekly diaries and an interview at study-end. Four themes emerged from the interviews: Routine & Structure, Relationships, Attitudes of Mindfulness, and Overall Impressions. The diaries revealed three themes: Relationships, Situtational / Life Circumstances, and Ineffable Life Enhancers. A compelling argument is made for the inclusion of a mindfulness curriculum and for further studies of gratitude counselling interventions and the mindfulness and gratitude relationship.

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Counsellor empathy or having a heart to help?: An ethnographic investigation of Chinese clients' experience of counselling (2011)

Multicultural education has become an integral part of professional training in counselling psychology. Empathy refers to one’s ability to hear, to feel, and to acknowledge others’ experiences, and has been regarded as an essential counsellor skill in psychotherapy. However, current understanding of empathy is almost entirely based on Western culture and may not match with non-Western clients’ expectations in cross-cultural counselling. As well, research regarding counsellor empathy in cross-cultural counselling has often focused on counsellors’ self-reports, and clients’ perceptions of empathy are scarcely investigated within any cultural group. The present qualitative research, namely, ethnographic interview, examined the concept of counsellor empathy from Chinese clients’ perspectives by exploring their experiences of therapeutic relationships. Eight informants, two male and six female, ranging in age from 40 to 55, were interviewed in-depth about their experiences of seeing Chinese counsellors. Elements of counsellor empathy were examined with the interview data obtained. Nine themes emerged from data analysis. They are: (a) Counsellor Professionalism, (b) Counsellor Attitudes, (c) Empathy, (d) Counsellor Disclosure, (e) Client Confidentiality, (f) The Counselling Process, (g) Chatting, (h) Roles of Clients and Client-Counsellor Relationship in Counselling, and (i) Perceived Importance in Counselling.Based on the results, it is found that the concept of counsellor empathy existed, but not commonly, in informants’ perceptions. Also, it was not considered as a priority in counselling according to informants’ perspectives. It is conjectured that counsellor empathy might exist in Chinese counselling relationships as a different phenomenon linguistically and conceptually. Implication for practice and future research are delineated.

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Healing in the none zone: the role of spirituality for survivors of domestic abuse in the Pacific Northwest (2011)

Domestic abuse is a prevalent issue within Canadian society; despite this fact, research in the area of healing from domestic abuse is still relatively limited. Meanwhile, research on the topic of spirituality and healing from domestic abuse is still in its infancy. A number of studies on the connections between spirituality and physical / mental health, and spirituality and trauma, suggest the importance of further research on the connections between spirituality and healing from domestic abuse. The purpose of this study is to add to the limited literature on this topic through the exploratory methodology of hermeneutic phenomenology, with a critical feminist modality. This study is unique as it was conducted in Vancouver, British Columbia, and its suburbs, and considers the research question in the cultural and spiritual context of the Pacific Northwest – considered by some authors to be the none zone - which includes the province of British Columbia, and the states of Washington, Oregon and Alaska. By exploring the participants’ experiences of spirituality in relation to healing from domestic abuse, the study adds to the argument for further education in this area for service providers. Six themes emerged from the interviews with the 8 participants. These themes were: (1) Letting go and moving on, (2) Finding comfort and support, (3) Reconnecting to self and the outside world, (4) Building self-confidence, (5) Gaining a sense of empowerment, (6) Regaining hope. A final subsection entitled Call to action: Suggestions for service providers, was included in order to provide participants with a chance to send a message to service providers about their needs in relation to healing. The study offers new insight into women’s experiences of healing from domestic abuse, especially in relation to diverse forms of spirituality. The study also explores clinical implications of the results, as well as areas for future research.

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The Experience of Christian Contemplative Practice in Helping Professionals (2010)

Current literature in the field of counselling psychology shows a great deal of interest in spirituality, meditation techniques, and how these may be more fully included in counselling practice. There are very few studies that examine contemplative practices such as Christian Centering Prayer, and very few that look at professionals who hold these practices. The purpose of this study is to explore the experiences of people in helping professions who self-identify as having a Christian contemplative practice that includes Centering Prayer. By exploring these people’s experience of their contemplative practice in relation to their personal and professional life, the study reveals an area of counsellor development and professional practice that is rarely discussed. Hermeneutic phenomenology was used, and eight people from eight different professions were interviewed. Seven themes emerged from the interviews: (a) Changes in self-understanding and/or relationship with God, (b) Skills and learning related to thoughts and emotions, (c) Changes in personal relationships, (d) Quality of client and professional relationships, (e) Getting self out of the way, (f) Openness to others — sense of universality, and (g) Embracing life, mystery, and change. The study promotes greater awareness and understanding of contemplative practice and how its teachings relate to counselling and psychotherapy. As well, it offers insights into how these professionals integrate an understanding of spirituality into their work. Implications for practice and recommendations for further research are suggested.

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