Heather Spence, Psy.D., is a 2016 graduate of the PsyD Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, Seattle

Dissertation Committee

William Heusler, PsyD, Committee Chair

Mary Wieneke, PhD, Committee Member

Laura S. Brown, PhD, Committee Member


Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, IPA, Grief, Bereavement, Child abuse, Physical abuse, Sexual abuse, Death, Adult survivor, Abusive parent, Qualitative, Trauma

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It is well documented that approximately 25–33% of children experience abuse, many of those at the hands of a primary caretaker. Within the literature on child maltreatment, there exists a paucity of research about the long-term effects of early maltreatment on adult attachments with the previous abuser, including the experiences of adults who experience the death of their previous caretakers. Additionally, most of the research on grief and bereavement assumes positive affect for the deceased by survivors. This dissertation is an in-depth examination of five adults, aged 50–70 years old, who experienced the recent death of a parent or stepparent who had sexually or physically abused them during their childhood. Individual interviews were conducted and analyzed, using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Six primary themes were identified, and include: Effects of Abuse, Survival, Healing Process, Adult Relationship with Abuser, Responses to Death, and Next Steps. Each participant described their story through a developmental perspective, sharing how they had changed from the abuse as well as their coping and healing processes. Responses to death included differences from the existing grief and bereavement literature, including emotional reactions, changes in attachment styles, as well as further healing from the abuse. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA, and Ohio Link ETD Center,


Heather Spence, PsyD 2016

ORCID Scholar # 0000-0002-9362-2049