Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Kelly McDonnell, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Jennifer Foster, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Karen VanDeusen, Psy.D.


Adult survivor, childhood sexual abuse, counseling, help-seeking, narrative inquiry, therapy


The purpose of the narrative inquiry is to investigate the journey of adult female survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) in seeking out and obtaining individual counseling. The goal is to understand why survivors seek individual counseling and how the process of obtaining and utilizing counseling unfolds over time.

This qualitative study is conducted with convenience and criterion sampling selection. The participants used for the study are two adults who identify as female, aged 18 or older, who are survivors of more than one incident of CSA and are current clients of therapists in the investigator’s existing professional network. Additionally, the participants have current, ongoing experience utilizing individual counseling on at least a bi-weekly basis and have addressed CSA in either past or current counseling.

Narrative inquiry is used as a framework to understand the participants’ familial, social, and environmental context growing up, their experiences of CSA, and their experiences seeking, obtaining, and utilizing individual counseling. Participants’ narrative construction is presented as a chronology of unfolding events, including turning points and epiphanies, and is presented using the three-dimensional space of place, sociality, and temporality. In-vivo quoting is used to provide rich and accurate portrayals of participants’ experiences.

Findings indicate that adult female survivors of CSA experience a unique combination of barriers and motivators over the course of their lives that result in seeking out and utilizing individual counseling. Findings also indicate that survivors seek out and utilize individual counseling due to circumstances not directly related to their CSA experiences and may not initially conceptualize CSA as a necessary focus of treatment. Finally, survivors have unique experiences entering therapy, addressing CSA as a focus of treatment, and with the short- and long-term impact of therapy.

This study has implications for the work of clinical professionals, as well as for future research. For clinical professionals, results suggest that it is important to directly inquire about a history of CSA, regardless of the client’s presenting problems. Findings also suggest that it is important for clinicians to gain insight into their clients’ journey into individual counseling. Clinical professionals should remain sensitive to their client’s feedback about addressing CSA in therapy and balance their professional opinions with the feedback of their clients about the need and impact of addressing CSA in counseling. Finally, it may be important for clinicians, and clinical training programs, to assess and address the minimum level of competency needed in the treatment of CSA. Future research might focus on common factors that constitute both barriers and motivators for adult female survivors of CSA in seeking out and utilizing individual counseling, identifying specific reasons why survivors seek out psychological treatment, and understanding survivors’ unique experiences of addressing CSA in therapy.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access