Katherine Marie Burrelsman is a 2009 graduate of the PsyD Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, Santa Barbara.


serious mental illness, families, structured interview, meaning, qualitative, grounded theory, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, OCD, narrative

Document Type


Publication Date



It is a commonly held belief that it is inherent in human nature to strive for coherence and meaning in the midst of adversity. Whether this is short or long term, for immediate or prolonged functioning, we all strive to put experiences within events into a framework that enables us to develop a sense of order leading to acceptance and resolution. Therefore, each individual within a family system may develop a hypothesis in order to make a modicum of sense of what can appear to be an impossible situation. The participants involved in this study were individuals with relatives suffering from mental illness; parents, siblings, children, and extended family members who had raised a niece/nephew or grandchild with mental illness. The research design was based on pilot interviews, a demographic questionnaire, and a structured narrative interview. The transcribed texts were analyzed using structural analysis and grounded theory. Five women and three men provided narratives of their lived experience with a family member suffering with mental illness from a variety of perspectives in response to open-ended questions posed by Researcher. The emergent themes were organized and categorized into levels or stages of experience that became the structural equivalent of the journey undertaken by these individuals in their search for meaning. These themes were characterized by the need for the experience of feelings, the need to reach out (personal contact), the need for cognitive process (faculty of knowing), the need for an end purpose, the need for an outcome, and the need for an ultimate resolution from which sense or meaning is derived. Results of the study indicated that family members come to terms with or find meaning in the midst of familial mental illness through a process that incorporates the succinct concepts of emotion, resources, knowledge, strategies, process, and coming to terms. The integration of these components into a model of meaning for families with relatives suffering from mental illness lead these individuals to ways of being in the world that is characterized, in most cases, by active engagement in the search for meaning. The electronic version of this dissertation is available in the open-access OhioLink ETD Center,