The Effects of Tai Chi Chuan on Mindfulness, Mood, and Quality of Life in Adolescent Girls


William L Zahn, 2008

Steven Hickman, Psy.D., Chair

Dissertation Abstract

A growing body of literature supports the use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in psychological practice. While practices such as mindfulness meditation have received substantial attention, little research has been done to investigate the psychological benefits of Tai Chi Chuan (TCC). Designed to promote physical and mental well-being, this Chinese martial art has been examined primarily as a means of improving mobility and balance in the elderly. However, recent research indicates it can have far-ranging benefits on mood, cognitive functioning, and quality of life (QOL). TCC experts also assert that TCC promotes mindfulness—the ability to observe one’s present experience non-judgmentally—but no previous studies measured this relationship.

The current study sought to investigate the psychological benefits of TCC for adolescents. Twelve high school girls met for nine weekly TCC instructional sessions. Quantitative measures of mindfulness, mood, QOL, blood pressure, and heart rate were administered at the beginning and end of the TCC course. In addition, several short-answer qualitative questions assessed participants’ experience of the program, and their teachers were given surveys inquiring about any changes they may have noticed during the course of the intervention. Ten participants completed both the pre- and post-intervention measures.

Results of a Wilcoxon Signed-Rank Test showed clear improvements in mood—particularly vigor, depression, anxiety, and fatigue—and QOL—particularly in self-esteem, self-efficacy, and interpersonal relationships. Some improvements in mindfulness were also found, but the results were inconclusive. No significant changes were observed in heart rate or blood pressure. Pearson correlations between the study measures and the reported frequency with which students practiced TCC revealed a significant relationship between practice frequency and participants’ ability to observe their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. Pearson correlations also revealed some relationship between mindfulness and benefits in mood and QOL. Qualitative responses from students and teachers identified benefits in relaxation and concentration. The results are discussed in terms of adolescent girls’ development and future applications of TCC.



Psychodynamic and Postmodern Perspectives on Typologies of Narcissism


Carla M. Payne, 2008

Anabel Bejarano, Ph.D., Chair

Dissertation Abstract

Narcissism is represented in the DSM system as a personality disorder consisting largely of overt characteristics including grandiosity, haughtiness, superiority, and entitlement. The DSM does not address underlying issues of lowered self-esteem and shame that are abundantly addressed in the research and which suggest that other forms of narcissism exist, notably a covert or shy type. This dissertation compares and contrasts theories developed by Kernberg, Kohut, Bursten, Lowen, Millon, Ronningstam, and others regarding narcissism which explicate the concept that narcissism takes many forms and that the DSM should expand its scope. Postmodern concepts of narcissism; positive aspects of narcissism; cultural narcissism, and subclinical narcissism are also discussed. Trauma-associated narcissism, gender in narcissism, suicidality in narcissism and transference in the treatment of narcissism are also discussed.



Professional Poker Players: A Qualitative Study


Soledad Espinola, 2007

Steven Bucky, Ph.D., Chair

Dissertation Abstract

Professional poker players make up a large part of the gambling subculture and some are defying the gambler’s negative stereotype. The majority of the literature in the gambling field has focused on pathological gambling and little information exists regarding successful professionals. This study examined the characteristics that lead to successful poker playing by professional poker players known to compete at the mid to upper levels in their field. The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand more fully the experience of professional poker players and the characteristics that aid their success. Research participants consisted of eight professional poker players (4 males and 4 females) who were interviewed using a semi-structured interview format. Interviews were transcribed and then analyzed for emergent themes using the constant comparative method. Seven categories and their themes with regard to the characteristics of professional poker players were revealed. Additional characteristics emerged from the data that reveal characteristics that not only separate successful players from unsuccessful players; they signify the qualities that players believe insure success. Participants expressed that success comes from leading a focused and disciplined life and work. This mind-set and behavior enables them to be psychological sound and best able to regulate stress, adversity, and even excitement. The personal characteristics that professional poker players possess in order to move up the ladder of accomplishment and maintain continual success were many. The results of this study with professional poker players reveal characteristics that not only separate successful players from unsuccessful players; they signify the qualities that players believe insure success. Conclusions from this study have several important implications for subsequent research on professional poker players, as well as for gamblers in general. This population of special individuals has both innate and learned characteristics that deserve further attention.



Mental Preparation of Elite Athletes: A Qualitative Study


Steven Nicklaus Hannant, 2007

Steven Bucky, PhD, Chair

Dissertation Abstract

Elite athletes compete at the highest level of their chosen field and elite Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) athletes are considered by many to be the greatest all around trained athletes in the world. Mental preparation is considered the distinguishing form of preparation that separates the successful athletes from the less successful at a level where many are physically comparable. Therefore, the purpose of this qualitative study was to understand more fully the experience of elite MMA athletes and their utilization of mental preparation. Research participants consisted of eight professional MMA male athletes who were interviewed using a semi-structured interview format. Five categories containing a total of 17 major and 11 minor themes regarding mental preparation were revealed. Elite MMA athletes considered mental preparation vital to their success and discussed their personal mental training program. Participants expressed what mental preparation tools were used in their training regime and how they utilized these preparation tactics including their personal preferences. This study and results indicate that elite MMA athletes utilize various forms of well-known mental preparation and uphold certain personal preferences. In addition, these elite athletes would benefit from comprehensive mental preparation training and learn how to better improve their mental performance just like they do with their physical performance. This is a population of special individuals who are set apart with mental and physical giftedness deserves further attention.



The Experience of Adolescent Girls Participating in an Adventure Therapy Program: A Qualitative Study


Sarah L. Ray, Psy.D

Don Eulert, Ph.D., Chair

Dissertation Abstract

This dissertation explored the experiences of 12 adolescent girls in a nature-based therapy program, known as Ramapo for Children, in Rhinebeck, New York.  Three qualitative interviews, and supplemental quantitative data, were used to gather information on the girls’ experiences in the program and in nature, including the therapeutic benefits of the program and relationship building with staff and peers. The most salient components facilitating personal growth and a positive experience in the program were the relationships formed and opportunities to be in nature.  The greatest difficulty in the program was adjusting to nature and being physically active. This study provides long-term information based on a diverse population that is minimally covered in the current literature, as well as concrete program suggestions for nature-based therapy programs for adolescent girls.



Sensory Integration Theory as Applied Through Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy with a Child Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder


Kevin Yeckley, 2009

Steven Hickman, Psy.D., Chair

Dissertation Abstract

Many professionals in the field of Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) and clients claim physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits from participation in EFP. However, their claims are based primarily on anecdotal evidence. With no scientific basis of corroboration, credibility within the scientific and academic community is for the most part non-existent. This lack of credibility results in a deficit in funding for research and program development, which is needed in order to make EFP and related programs viable and accessible for those who would most likely benefit from this type of therapeutic intervention. Therefore, the intent of this study was to explore the theoretical constructs of Sensory Integration (SI), and how by utilizing SI as a theoretical foundation, both researchers and practitioners working in the field of EFP will be able to more accurately conceptualize and relate the positive benefits of EFP to the scientific and academic community, thus allowing for a greater understanding and acceptance of EFP as a viable and effective treatment approach.

This study spans the gap between present EFP practices and subsequent performance-based empirical studies by exploring qualitative findings in the experience of a participant in EFP utilizing Sensory Integration (SI) as a theoretical “bridge.”

According to A. Jean Ayres, (1979), “Inner Drive” activation is of the utmost importance, because for an individual to benefit from therapeutic interventions structured to enhance SI, the individual must want to be an active participant in the therapeutic process. Inner drive can be observed in the excitement, confidence, and effort that an individual brings to an activity (Ayres 1972). EFP’s main treatment focus is to provide the child with as much environmental stimulation that will require the use of the entire body, all of the senses, and the entire brain in a meaningful way. The child’s realization of his own potential becomes self-directing, and the more this can be utilized the greater and faster the neuronal organization. The ultimate goal of treatment, according to Ayres (1979), “ Is a child who wants to succeed, can and will direct himself meaningfully, and with satisfaction in response to environmental demands” (p. 257).

The qualitative data analysis of this study revealed four major themes: Happiness, Lack of Fear, Self-Confidence, and Bonding. These themes are mutually inclusive with the prerequisite elements of excitement, confidence, and effort. Happiness, for example, underlies the behavior and emotion characterized by excitement. Lack of fear and self-confidence contribute to an overall sense of confidence. Finally, bonding (in-so-far as it reflects a mutuality of experience) drives effort. As in this case, effort leads to a bonding experience that includes love, trust, kinship and a sense of belonging.

Once the prerequisite elements of excitement, confidence, and effort are attained through EFP, the resulting implication is that the child’s inner drive has been activated to the extent that the probability of an increase in sensory integrative functioning is likely.



An Exploratory Study of Religious Conversion Motivated by Marriage:  Adult Attachment Style and the Marital Relationship


Kimberly C. Loewen, 2009

Marina Dorian, Ph.D., Chair

Dissertation Abstract

The majority of people in the United States report that religion and spirituality play an integral role in their romantic relationships. Thus far, research conducted on the role religion plays in marital relationships has primarily focused on the effects partners practicing different religions has on marital satisfaction and stability. There has been little research on how the marital relationship is affected by one partner converting to the religion practiced by his or her spouse. Due to the lack of extensive research in this area, this investigator proposed a preliminary study exploring the experiences of individuals who converted for marriage. Specifically, the goal was twofold: to explore adult attachment style patterns of converters and to examine their experiences of marital satisfaction following conversion. These aspects of converters’ experiences were investigated through two questionnaires and a qualitative semi-structured interview. The Experiences in Close Relationships-Revised (ECR-R) was used to measure attachment style patterns and the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS) was used to measure marital satisfaction.

In order to qualify for the study, participants must have chosen to convert to the religion practiced by his or her spouse before marriage or within the first year of marriage. Participants must have been married for a minimum of 2 years and still be married to the spouse for whom he or she converted. Conversion was defined as having made a conscious decision to join one’s spouse’s religious community and a subsequent adoption of beliefs related to this community. Nine participants, 3 male and 6 female, were interviewed for the current study. Two converted to Judaism, two to Catholicism, one to Mormonism, one to the Bah’ai faith, one to Islam, one to Protestantism, and one to Christianity. Nine participants were interviewed based on when saturation occurred, when no new information was being gained from interviews.

Results from the ECR-R indicated that people who convert often display secure attachment patterns. Whether the secure attachment patterns influence one’s decision to convert, or whether these patterns are resultant from a successful relationship following conversion was a point of discussion. Results from the DAS indicated that converters experienced high levels of marital satisfaction. This was supported by participants’ answers to interview questions, which revealed that most people who converted were happy with their decision and felt that their conversion had enhanced their marital relationship. Interviews were also analyzed using the Constant Comparative method, which involved seeking out recurring themes, phrases, and/or patterns in the data and comparing these across participants in order to identify common experiences, emotions, and thoughts among all who participated. Themes that emerged included common experiences of individuals prior to converting, such as lack of involvement in religion prior to meeting their spouse; common personality characteristics of converters, such as openness, trust, and intellectual curiosity; common individual experiences following conversion, including an increased emphasis on one’s value system and feeling a sense of community; and common relationship experiences following conversion, such as feeling emotionally and spiritually closer to one’s spouse.

Although there are limitations to the study, results from the current study indicate that religious conversion motivated by marriage has an impact on both individual and relationship experiences following conversion. In addition, the current study put forth that people who choose to convert have some religious history and personality characteristics in common. Characteristics that converters have in common include attachment style patterns and stage of identity formation when conversion is made.

You may reach Kim Loewen, Ph.D. here: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



A Grounded Theory Exploration of Parent-to-Child Verbal Aggression and Development of an Integrative Theoretical Model for Understanding Recipient Impact


Deanna M. DeBlaere, Psy.D.

Chair: Neil Ribner, Ph.D.

Dissertation Abstract

This qualitative study explored 10 (5 female; 5 male) American adults’ subjective appraisals of their childhood and adulthood functional—cognitive, emotional, physiological, and behavioral—responses to childhood episodes of parent-to-child verbal aggression, including coping responses, and how this form of aggression impacted, and continues to impact, their intra- and inter-relationships. Results of this study revealed that, in their adulthood, recipients of childhood episodes of parent-to-child verbal aggression appraise themselves as having been, and continuing to be, negatively impacted by their childhood experiences of verbally aggressive parenting behavior—specifically in the form of childhood and adulthood uncomfortable, threatening, and/or trauma-like cognitive, emotional, physiological, and behavioral responses and maladaptive intra- and inter-relational experiences. With the use of grounded theory methods for data collection and analysis, an integrative theoretical model was developed, which describes: (a) the causal condition of childhood episodes of parent-to-child verbal aggression, (b) contextual and intervening conditions [including cultural and sub-cultural norms and risk and protective factors] that influenced participants’ actions and interactions in response to childhood episodes of parent-to-child verbal aggression, (c) the inter-reactive “web” of attack on human functioning and relating that occurred via childhood episodes of parent-to-child verbal aggression, (d) long-term consequences in the form of adulthood repetition and/or maintenance of inter-reactive “web” of attack on human functioning and relating: “stuck on the web,” and (e) means of reprieval from adulthood inter-reactive “web” of attack on human functioning and relating [i.e., adulthood emotion- and problem-focused coping strategies]. Subcategories of each component of the integrative theoretical model, and relations between subcategories and categories (or components of the model), were identified and illustrated by narrative data. Clinical implications indicating a need for an integrative approach to assessment and intervention with recipients of parent-to-child verbal aggression are discussed, as well as suggestions for future research. Additionally, an instrument that allows for the assessment of exposure to a wide range of verbally aggressive parenting behaviors was developed for, and is presented within, this study. Although internal reliability and validity coefficients for this instrument have yet to be established, its development was based on current research and, in part, existing measures.



Psychologists’ Perception of the Influence of a Regular Yoga Regimen on their Professional Lives


Gabriela Hirsch

Robert Brager, Psy.D, Chair

Dissertation Abstract

This study explored the perceptions and experiences of a regular yoga regimen on psychologists’ personal and professional lives, in order to understand the benefits of yoga as a self care strategy. Method: This study utilized qualitative methodology with a semi-structured interview. Twelve psychologists who had a regular yoga regimen of at least 30 minutes per week, and who had been licensed for at least one year, participated in this study. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using the Constant Comparative Method described by Maykut & Morehouse (1994). The Maslach Burnout Inventory –Human Service Survey (Maslach et al., 1996), a self-report measure was utilized to measure participants’ burnout. Findings: The MBI-HSS scores of the psychologists who participated in this study reflected the following: high degree of personal accomplishment, low depersonalization, and low emotional exhaustion. Participants regarded self care as a unique need for psychologists, specifying physical and mental health and self-awareness as important aspects of their personal and professional lives. Regarding coping strategies, psychologists stated that talking to colleagues and/or friends, striving for balance between personal and professional responsibilities, and having a regular yoga regimen were helpful in their coping with stress. A regular yoga regimen provided psychologists with personal and professional benefits. These benefits included: an improvement in their self-awareness, a constructive relationship to themselves, positive utilization of breath, and an enhancement of their “sense of connectedness” between body, mind, and spirit. Furthermore, psychologists asserted that their regular yoga regimen was helpful in regards to their being empathic, compassionate, and “present” with their clients. Also, greater humility was discussed as a result of the participants’ regular yoga regimen, which contributed to a more accepting and non-judgmental stance towards themselves and others. Some additional benefits discussed by the participants were linked to self-reported resilience such as insight, willingness, flexibility, motivation, and spirituality.



Existential Themes in the Experience of Psychotherapists Working with Survivors of Torture


Melis Gazioglu, 2004

David J. Cain, Ph.D., A.B.P.P., C.G.P., Chair

Dissertation Abstract

This study inquired into the existential themes intrinsic to the experiences of psychotherapists who work with survivors of torture. This study explored various manifestations of existential themes including existential guilt, thrownness, limits of freedom, isolation, meaninglessness, and death anxiety in psychotherapists who work with survivors of torture. Since there has been a paucity of research into psychotherapists’ experience of working with survivors of torture and no research that explores vicarious traumatization from an existential perspective, a qualitative research design was used in order to address the gap in the literature. This study is both deductive and inductive because the general focus of inquiry is to address the questions, “How are existential themes manifested when psychotherapists describe the meanings of their work with survivors of torture?” and “What are the experiences of psychotherapists who work with torture survivors?

Ten licensed psychotherapists who have worked with minimum number of five survivors of torture were interviewed about their experiences of working with survivors of torture. Qualitative content analysis was used to analyze existential themes, whereas constant comparative method was used to analyze other emerging themes from the data.

All of the existential themes as well as their polar continua were reported at varying emphasis by the participants of this study. Existential guilt was reported by four of the therapists whereas the polar continuum of a heightened sense of responsibility was a prominent theme in the experience of six of the participants. Seven of the participants articulated an increased awareness of their thrownness as a result of their work with survivors of torture. Six of the therapists expressed the theme “limits of freedom” and four of the participants described the polar continuum of acceptance and responsibility. Meaning was a central theme among all of the participants. Whereas three participants mentioned the theme “meaninglessness,” all of the participants discussed meaning and purpose in describing their work with survivors of torture. The isolation theme, which included the interpersonal, and existential isolation was mentioned by seven of the participants. Nine of the participants articulated this theme’s polarity issues of relationship, intimacy, and continuity. Furthermore, none of the participants described intrapersonal isolation as a theme in the interviews. Finally, three of the therapists reported that their thoughts and beliefs about death have been affected as a result of their work with survivors of torture.

Additionally, several other prominent themes were gleaned from the interviews. These themes included effects of working with survivors of torture in three aspects: personal (emotional strains, psychic benefit, and self-care), professional (therapeutic learnings and adaptations, therapeutic effectiveness, and work with interpreters and sociopolitical (sense of injustice, distrust in media and politicians, and broadened worldview). Clinical and theoretical implications of the findings are discussed. Limitations of the study and suggestions for future research are included.



Dream interpretation: The experience of clients in classical Jungian analysis


Robert Boucek Jr., 2008

Don Eulert, PhD, Chair

Dissertation Abstract

This qualitative research study explored the experience of clients in classical Jungian dream analysis due to a paucity of outcome research on Jungian analysis. The study sought to understand the perspectives of clients who participated in classical Jungian dream interpretation. Eight Caucasian participants, 2 males and 6 females, ranging in age from 45 to 64 years, who had been in analysis for 2 to 10+ years, were interviewed. Data collection consisted of a semi-structured interview, the administration of the Dream Activities Scale—Second Revision (Boucek, Crook, & Hill, 2008) and further follow-up interview questions that assessed how particular dream work activities are helpful. Lastly, the study explored how the participants’ experiential accounts compare to Jungian theory on both dreams and the effects of Jungian dream work. The experience of the participants offered evidence of dream activation consistent with Jungian theory and provided insight into how dream work activities contribute to the overall process of dream interpretation. Lastly, the participants also discussed how the work impacted multiple areas of their lives, including symptom reduction, self-confidence, self-understanding, authenticity, spirituality, meaning, internal resources, and interpersonal relationships. The discussion reviews the results in the context of Jungian theory, and speculates upon the ways that classical Jungian dream work leads to change. The results also point to possible directions for future dream interpretation research as well as the types of measures useful for future outcome studies on Jungian analysis.



The Role of Existential Theory In the Practice of Existential Psychotherapy


Dr. Susan J. Bily,

Don Eulert, PhD, Chair

Dissertation Abstract

Susan recruited responses from ten eminent psychologists who are existentially-oriented.   Interviews enriched the current literature in this area by providing a deeper understanding of the subjective, descriptive accounts from “recognized” psychologists who adhere to an existential orientation in their practice.

The minimum inclusion criteria included thatparticipants: (i) were either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in clinical psychology; (ii) had to have been licensed for a minimum of 5 years; (iii) had to be 35 years or older; (iv) identified themselves as being members of the American Psychological Association Division #32 Humanistic Psychology; and, (v) identified themselves as being existentially-oriented.

Bily used qualitative methodology to examine and study the narrative of the participants through their words and actions (Maykut & Morehouse, 1994), explaining and interpreting the meaning of the participants’  psychotherapeutic orientation and practices as existential psychotherapists.

Current research linking the role of existential theory in the practice of existential psychotherapy has revealed two significant and disturbing findings: (i) that an attempt to formulate an existential treatment modality has few precedents in the therapy literature (Schneider and May, 1995); and, (ii) that a rigorous, cohesive, and systematic approach defining the process of existential psychotherapy remains vague and undefined.  

In an effort to explore, assess, and redefine this phenomenon, Bily focused on two arenas of relevance: (1) fundamental themes of existential thought; and, (2) an examination of methods used by current existential practitioners.  She sought to assess whether, in fact, existential psychotherapy can be used as an umbrella term in relationship to existential thought and philosophy.

This investigation used a structured yet open-ended questionnaire to explore the techniques and therapeutic style of existentially-oriented psychotherapists.  Through  qualitative analysis, the data derived from the interviews revealed:

    1. that existential practitioners lack a common language when describing similar thoughts and techniques;
    2. that there is a process which defines existential technique .  However, without a systematic and rigorous defining of terms, one participant might describe the exact phenomenon as another clinician, yet use completely different words to describe it.  While seemingly incongruent, in fact the participants were congruent in both their approach and technique;
    3. that, unlike other modalities mentioned in the Literature Review (i.e., cognitive-behavioral therapy), which is applicable to a majority of populations, existential psychotherapy is not. For example, the fragility and rigidity of a patient may deter an existential practitioner from embarking on a process-oriented existential exploration;

and, (iv) that the parameters of what constitutes defining oneself as an existential psychotherapist remains vague, with further investigation needed.

This study concludes that further investigation to assess, clarify, and develop current existential terms and practices among those identifying themselves as being existentially-oriented is warranted.  Despite the ambivalence among many clinicians to embrace existentialism as a treatment modality, its approach and philosophy in therapy reports powerful and dynamic transformation of  persons’   being-in-the-world .  

    1. Bily fervently hopes that her research becomes a foundation for many other researchers to explore existential thought and philosophy as a paradigm for psychotherapy.



The Highly Sensitive Heterosexual Female and Her Sexual Experience: Three Case Studies


Sarah Kahn, 2013

Don Eulert, Ph.D., Chair

Dissertation Abstract

A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) has a highly developed and specialized nervous system, scientifically known as Sensor Processing Sensitivity (SPS).  HSPs are more impacted than non-HSPs by sights, sounds, smells, taste, touch, their emotions, the emotions of other people, and their environment, and make up 15-20% of the population (Aron, 1996; Aron & Aron, 1997). Their subjective experience of sexuality is relatively unknown, especially within the larger context of how they perceive their sensitivity.  This study shares the stories of three highly sensitive heterosexual women with the focus being their experience of relationships and sexuality.  The women, two in their mid-high 20’s and one woman in her early 60’s all identified as being HSP and had NF in their Myers’ Briggs Typology.  Their experiences varied, however many themes generated described their ability to enjoy as well as become overstimulated within relationships or during sex.  Their partners’ familiarity and acknowledgment of their sensitivity, or lack of, greatly influenced the level of intimacy and safety within the relationship.  The level of connection directly impacted their desire and ability to be sexually available.  Their perceptions of their own sensitivity played a large role in their relationships and sexuality.  A common complaint was the lack of knowledge, understanding, and acceptance for their high degree of sensitivity, signifying the need for education, training, and further research regarding HSPs.  Many areas for continued research emerged, including replication of this study with other women or men, their partners (HSPs and non-HSPs), and across sexual orientations.  

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