Collaboration, Compassion and Creativity: Learning from parents' experience how mental health professionals can better support couples whose adult child experiences mental health difficulties

  • Rosemary Hunt

Student thesis: Doctor of Counselling Psychology


Parents, as carers, experience a multitude of emotions when their adult child experiences mental health difficulties yet no previous research has explored the impact on their relationship. Two questions are asked: How do couples stay together when their child experiences mental health difficulties? What can counselling psychologists and other mental health professionals learn from this in order to support parents? Qualitative dyadic interviews were conducted with five couples with an adult child who had experienced mental health difficulties for between 3-26 years. Couples were asked questions about how they communicate with and support each other whilst supporting their adult child. They were also asked what they had learnt about their relationship, what they thought mental health professionals could learn and what tips they had for other couples. Reflexive thematic analysis was used as the analytic tool. Five themes were identified for how couples stay together: relationship tensions were present but couples overcame these by learning about themselves as a couple; developing a shared narrative; creating space for themselves; and having a conscious commitment to the relationship. Adapting and developing a shared narrative also enabled them to learn how to respond to long-term mental health difficulties with a constructive change of attitude, rather than only holding hope for recovery. The analysis also identified that most parents felt they received inadequate support from mental health professionals, resulting in feelings of exclusion and anger. Whilst the situation is difficult, this research offers a hopeful message for how the couples learnt and maintained strength in their relationship. Recommendations for professionals and for training courses include: responding with compassion, normalising relationship challenges, ensuring collaboration with parents and creatively supporting parents to develop a shared and positive narrative of acceptance. Recommendations are also made for mental health professionals to listen to parents, provide information, offer counselling and support groups and ensure joined-up support with other professionals. The limitations of this research being non-specific to a particular diagnosis, having only white British participants and only interviewing couples who are still together are discussed and future directions recommended.
Date of Award31 Dec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorLaura Winter (Supervisor) & Gabriel Wynn (Supervisor)


  • reflexive thematic analysis
  • couple relationships
  • dyadic interviews
  • mental health difficulties including depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, eating disorders
  • parents as carers

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