Shame, Guilt and Eating Disorders: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

  • Tammy Itunuoluwa Oluyori

Student thesis: Doctor of Counselling Psychology


Background: Eating disorders are commonly occurring illnesses that frequently cause substantial physical, emotional and psychosocial impairments (Fairburn, et al., 2008). The prevalence of this debilitating condition has led to substantial efforts by researchers and clinicians to search for different ways of understanding the illness for the sole purpose of increasing the presently poor treatment outcomes. Existing theoretical and research literature looking at the role of shame and guilt in eating disorders have put forward a convincing assertion that shame and guilt are poignant features in the psychopathology and symptomatology of the condition. However, these reports have not provided in-depth explanation into how people suffering from eating disorders experience shame and guilt and very little qualitative research has been conducted in this area. Likewise, the interwoven relationship and the differences between shame and guilt and their role in eating disorders psychopathology and symptomatology remain unclear. Aims and Method: The present study is an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) that recognises the uniqueness of an individual's experience of complex phenomenon such as eating disorder. Thus it aims to explore the understanding and sense-making of shame and guilt experiences by listening to the voices of six people who have been diagnosed and treated for eating disorders using semi-structured interviewing method. The study also explores the role of shame and guilt in treatment particularly their implication in the disclosure of information in the course of treatment. Findings and Discussion: The analysis identified five main themes; the intensity of shame and guilt experience AND the pervasiveness of shame and guilt experience, Guilt and shame as integrated into all facets of the ED, Existential questioning of identity, shame and guilt lived out and developed in different context/ Locus of responsibility. Contribution to knowledge: The study provides deeper understanding of participants' subjective experience of shame and guilt. The study highlights that shame and guilt are experiences that are intertwined with all facets of eating disorders as well as the individual's identity. Finally, shame and guilt were described as experiences that negatively impacted on treatment process. The implications of this for counseling psychology practice are discussed, and suggestions for future research are made.
Date of Award1 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorElizabeth Ballinger (Supervisor), Anthony Parnell (Supervisor) & Erica Burman (Supervisor)


  • Keywords: Eating Disorders, Shame, Guilt, Treatment and Disclosure

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