From helplessness between «either-or» to confidence in «both-and»

Doctoral thesis, Health Promoting Processes, Karen Therese Sulheim Haugstvedt (2012)

The study “From helplessness between “either – or” to confidence in “both – and” Experiences of self-understanding among people living with long-lasting health problems” consists of three different projects which implement educational group-based counseling programs in three different populations: women on long-term sick leave, parents of children who are overweight and parents of children with disabilities. In each project, participants describe their change processes. They describe feeling insecure and helpless initially, and were trapped in a state of ambivalence between «either – or.” For example, should they remain sick or go to work? Should they accept that their child is overweight or set limits? Should they mourn the healthy child they did not receive or embrace the joy of the child they have?

New discoveries and a deeper understanding of themselves was stimulated by the relationships they developed with others in the group. They described feeling safe, acknowledged and free to be themselves. Participants also described a need to remain anonymous, recognize their own experiences and to be challenged. They knew what it was like to walk in someone else’s shoes and knew what it felt like to be in a similar situation, but did not know what they themselves needed now. When they reflected on the consequences of new self-discovery, they improved their self-understanding and were able to reassess their needs.

When participants implemented and experienced self-selected changes in everyday life, they were surprised at the increased joy and self-respect they found. Furthermore, they were able to see themselves as resources. When they reflected on their values and who they are, they felt better equipped to take good care of themselves. It became possible to implement changes as they were motivated by what is important (values). The changes made were enduring as they took their own feelings (emotions) into account. The conclusion was a simultaneous “both-and”, where participants could be both vulnerable and strong. Results provide knowledge which could be used to develop initiatives that promote human health and dignity.

Doctoral thesis

Contact information
Karen Therese Sulheim Haugstvedt, Special Advisor, PhD
Telephone: +47 67 96 89 50
Address: Norsk HPH, Akershus University Hospital
Postboks 1000, 1478 Lørenskog, Norway

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