Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Dr. Sandra DeLuca



To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world.

(Rushdie, 2006, pg. 121)

Mental health care in the Western world is situated firmly within a biomedical paradigm. Disorder is assumed, and symptoms are viewed as dis-abling deviations from normal. A disease-based model of care informs the treatment options that are most available and accessible.

I argue that bio-medical care separates the person from her/his experiences, the self from the individual. I advocate for the addition of a non-biomedical approach to health education that enables a connection between the individual and her/his experiences; one that does not replace the self with a diagnostic profile. The creation of a meaningful understanding of that referred to as an illness experience, is recommended as essential to the process of moving away from illness and disability and towards wellness and ability.

I ask two overarching questions: 1) How might the exploration of a personal narrative of the self facilitate the process of constructing a meaningful understanding of experience in one who has been diagnosed with what they are told is mental illness? 2) How might this process enable the individual to move beyond a state of compromised emotional wellbeing and perceived dis-ability to a state of overall wellness and perceived ability?

Three separate but interrelated articles are included in this dissertation. My theoretical study examines the interrelatedness of meaningful learning, constructivism and Bakhtinian dialogism. I propose a theoretical framework for use in individualized approaches to meaning making for those who experience what they are told is mental illness.

Critical autobiographical narrative, the methodology supporting this research, is used to facilitate a wide variety of vicarious experiences. Dialogue, self-analysis, and self-reflexivity are recommended as key to the creation of autobiographical research that is effective and evocative.

My findings include an autobiographical account of the experience of being given electroshock, and a multi-voiced dialogue that includes two characters from Mary Shelley’s literary classic, ‘Frankenstein’. A self-reflective dialogue is woven throughout this section. Photographic images serve as metaphors to support dialogic musings.

This research aims to evoke thoughts and feelings, and to contribute new conversation to the ongoing dialogue on the nature of the narrative self in those who experience compromised emotional wellbeing.