Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. James M. Croteau

Second Advisor

Karen Blaisure

Third Advisor

Suzanne Hedstrom

Fourth Advisor

Richard Oxhandler


In clinical literature regarding adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, disclosure of abuse is considered a vital aspect of healing (Courtois,1988; Herman, 1992). Despite the apparent significance of disclosure, few studies have been conducted to investigate this process. Integrating feminist and qualitative research perspectives, I sought to explore disclosure through the stories, language, and perspectives of women survivors. I was interested in learning about the following issues: (a) the ways in which survivors' disclosure unfolded, (b) the ways in which survivors understood and made meaning of their disclosures, and (c) the ways in which survivors' lives changed through the process of telling others about their histories of abuse.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight women survivors. Analysis of the interview data was informed by grounded theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Member checks (Patton, 1988) were utilized to elicit participants' feedback regarding my analysis. A research journal was maintained throughout the study to document my observations and analytic process.

Disclosure was found to consist of two major components: survivors’ coming-to-voice, or movement from being silent to speaking about the abuse; and survivors' meaning-making, or development of meanings related to their disclosure experiences. Survivors' coming-to voice was influenced by: (a) survivors’ reasons for disclosing, (b) risks survivors associated with disclosing, and (c) survivors' prior disclosure experiences during childhood, adulthood, and / or in therapy. In their meaning-making, survivors developed meanings about: (a) self, (b) relationships with the persons told about the abuse, (c) childhood sexual abuse as a social phenomenon, and (d) disclosure as a healing process.

The results of the study shed light on the inter-relationships among disclosure experiences, the complexity of survivors' coming-to-voice, the reconstructions of relationships with self, others, and community which developed through survivors’ meaning-making, and survivors’ perspectives about disclosure as healing. The results indicate that therapists need to address issues related survivors’ coming-to-voice and meaning-making, support survivors’ empowerment and ownership of their voice, and remain aware of their power to influence survivors' disclosure to family and friends.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access