Attempting to capture the ineffable quality: An interpretative phenomenological analysis and embodied interpretation of the experience of sudden personal transformation

  • India Amos

Student thesis: Doctor of Counselling Psychology


Background and aims: The qualitative literature that has examined the topic of sudden and profound transformation has mostly focused on the antecedent and facilitative factors associated with this form of change. However, previous empirical research has noted the great difficulty participants experience when trying to arrive at an explanation for their change. Within this study, I have aimed to explore the lived experience of sudden personal transformation. Having experienced a life altering epiphany myself, I was compelled to investigate how others, who also identified as having experienced a sudden, transformative change, made sense of it. Participants' struggle to find the 'words that work' when retelling and interpreting their transformation experience developed to become one of the central focuses of this thesis. The lived body is conceptualised as an essential source of meaningful understanding, and therefore, is sought to be used as an instrument of data analysis. Method: Six participants took part in unstructured interviews which were transcribed, before applying an interpretative phenomenological analysis. With the aim of facilitating the development of emotionally receptive forms of understanding, an embodied interpretation was applied to each account, via the application of Gendlin's method of focusing. Found poems were also constructed. Findings: Five master themes were identified: 1) Making sense of what it is difficult to make sense of; 2) Who I was, what happened, who I am now; 3) Illuminating purpose; 4) Compelled to act; and 5) Attempting to capture the ineffable quality. Each master theme was identified as having two related sub-themes. The acceptance and appreciation of the experience as one which can never be fully explained played a vital role in the emerging meaning of the experience. Participants appeared to make sense of their transformation through the separation of their lives into the temporal categories of before and after the event. The lives of the participants were changed. New life paths became clear, and purpose was suddenly illuminated. For all the participants in the study, purpose appeared to be intimately linked with the creation of positive connections with others. Conclusions and Implications: Examination of how people experience positive change outside of the therapy room is of use to those seeking to support people who want to change within the realms of psychological therapy. Attendance to the researcher's bodily response to the research data was understood as enabling movement towards a fuller understanding of the phenomenon under examination, as well as facilitating the production of 'words that work'. It is concluded that therapeutic practitioners and other mental health professionals may benefit from understanding the dimensions of transformative change described here, in such qualitatively rich terms.
Date of Award31 Dec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorTerry Hanley (Supervisor) & Anthony Parnell (Supervisor)


  • sudden personal transformation
  • counselling psychology
  • interpretative phenomenological analysis
  • embodied interpretation

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