Exploring meaning making mechanisms in a group of South African women survivors of childhood sexual abuse
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The aim of this study was threefold: firstly, to explore what could be learned from the literature about the meaning making mechanisms of women survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA); secondly, to conduct an empirical study on the data obtained from the S2T treatment intervention sessions so as to identify the meaning making mechanisms of a group of South African women survivors of CSA, and lastly, to formulate a conceptual framework. The concept of meaning making mechanisms refers to the factors that enable survivors of CSA to attach a positive meaning to their CSA trauma on their path to recovery. The current study was conducted in two phases by means of exploratory qualitative research and Park and Folkman’s (1997) meaning making model was used as a theoretical framework. In phase one, a scoping review was conducted to explore the literature and provide a summary of what is known with regard to women survivors of CSA’s meaning making mechanisms. This scoping review identified four main themes and fourteen sub-themes as sourced from 64 studies, which supported and extended on Park and Folkman’s (1997) meaning making model. The four supporting themes were: doing good for others; restoring and empowering the inner self; mobilising external and social resources; and actively integrating the trauma. Sub-themes which extended on the meaning making model (Park & Folkman, 1997) were: providing maternal care; supporting, caring and not blaming the inner self as well as appreciating life; having a positive post trauma intimate and disclosure experience; and defining, confronting and understanding the trauma as well as developing a post trauma identity. These findings informed the formulation of a conceptual framework. The findings of the scoping review reported only five South African studies, with most studies conducted in developed countries. As such, these findings could not be transferred to a developing country like South Africa, and this motivated for the second phase of this study, which aimed to identify the meaning making mechanisms of a sample of South African women survivors of CSA who attended the Survivor to Thriver (S2T) strengths-based group intervention programme for women survivors of CSA. Due to the sensitivity of the topic and the vulnerability of the participants, the researcher employed qualitative secondary analysis (QSA) in the second phase of this study. QSA was employed on three existing datasets of 26 group treatment intervention sessions with 25 women survivors of CSA ranging from 18 to 54 years, spanning over a five-year period. A draft conceptual framework compiled in the scoping review in phase one of the study was translated into a coding framework and used as a guideline to conduct QSA in the second phase of this study. The thematic analysis of these existing data sets identified two overarching meaning making processes, namely intrapersonal and interpersonal meaning making mechanisms. The intrapersonal meaning making mechanisms were: recognising their self-worth, attitude of gratitude, finding ways of coping proactively, having a lifelong learning attitude and being autonomous, and lastly accepting and integrating a post trauma identity. The process of integrating a post trauma identity presented with nuanced differences. The interpersonal meaning making mechanisms were: being supported, encouraged and loved by others, having strong faith in a higher power, self-less devotion and embracing post trauma intimate experiences. Two sub-themes found in the scoping review, i.e., not blaming the self and having a positive disclosure experience, did not arise in the data of the S2T treatment sessions. The draft conceptual framework (compiled in phase one of this study) was then expanded and finalised into a formulated conceptual framework after phase two. This study contributed towards the global knowledge base on meaning making mechanisms of women survivors of CSA by providing the first known summary of studies to date. In addition, it opened the conversation on meaning making mechanisms of South African women survivors of CSA. It further resulted in the formulation of a conceptual framework to potentially inform practice and the specific treatment needs of women survivors of CSA. Further research is suggested to verify and expand on the findings of this study so as to inform treatment interventions for CSA survivors, specifically within the South African context.
- Health Sciences