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An exploration of how childlessness and the decision whether to parent is understood by psychoanalytic practitioners.

O'Sullivan, Sheila M (2016) An exploration of how childlessness and the decision whether to parent is understood by psychoanalytic practitioners. PhD thesis, University of Essex.


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Voluntary childlessness (VC) is a growing phenomenon in the 21st Century in western societies with the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in 2013 showing that one-fifth of women are childless at the age of 45. Sociological literature highlights how VC is a complex, multifaceted phenomenon and is often difficult to define. However, since its inception, psychoanalysis has made an inextricable link between femininity and motherhood thus psychoanalytic theory views motherhood as normative and it is often seen as a developmental stage. This thesis explores how psychoanalytic practitioners understand, conceptualise and respond to VC in the clinical setting. Four psychoanalytical practitioners were interviewed and three main themes arose as a result of the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) of the data collected. The first finding highlighted the biopsychosocial pressures that the participants felt their patients experienced. Some participants spoke of the professional pressure they experienced from within the psychoanalytic field as a result of the theory that links motherhood and femininity. The second finding highlighted the ethical dilemmas faced by some patients with regards to whether to become a mother, such as a VC choice might be the result of difficult childhoods, immaturity, or because their mental health issues precluded them from motherhood or they feared motherhood might induce mental illness. The final finding highlighted that working with childless patients was both complex and conflictual. The practitioners discussed both their personal professional responses to childlessness in general. This research is important for highlighting how psychoanalytical practitioners are influenced by the competing discourses in society surrounding motherhood. Finally, the thesis critically evaluates the research, makes suggestions for future enquiries and reflects on the clinical implications of the findings.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Voluntary childlessness, stigma, fit to parent. psychoanalytic practitioners, IPA, sociological underatanding
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Women
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0500 Psychoanalysis
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences > Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies, Department of
Depositing User: Sheila O'Sullivan
Date Deposited: 30 Jan 2017 12:18
Last Modified: 22 Jan 2020 02:00

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