Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Sharon Lamb

Second Advisor

Gonzalo Bacigalupe

Third Advisor

Shannon Lynch


The way we perceive, define and regulate mental health in our society has long been problematized. Despite this criticism, available psy- discourses continue to locate the problem in the individual, and disguise the impact of patriarchy, neoliberalism, and multiple marginalizations for those who have been impacted by trauma. Further, these discourses lead to interventions that respond to acute trauma; often complex trauma, through multiple diagnoses, makes pathways for healing less clear. Within these discourses girls may be particularly vulnerable to being positioned as over-emotional and willfully resistant, leading to interventions that place them in institutions such as residential programs. These institutions tend to increase surveillance and encourage self-discipline. In these institutions, reactions such as being “triggered” are viewed as a behavior to be regulated. But rarely are girls in residential psychiatric institutions the subject of research. In this study, I look at the discourses girls in these institutions pick up and resist. The current study utilizes Foucauldian discourse analysis to explore how complexly traumatized adolescent girls in a residential program construct the experience of being “triggered.” Participants completed a semi-structured interview to produce transcripts for the analysis. Analysis focused on discourses that reproduced and resisted mainstream and institutional ideas of girlhood, psychiatry, and trauma. Analysis also looked at the subject positions participants took up, how they positioned others, and what this indicated about available actions and subjectivities. Power relations between participants and different members of the residential program were also explored. Findings indicated that psy- discourses were well known by the participants, and so engrained as to be quite difficult to resist or change. Participants consistently constructed “triggered” as a program word, and a tension was revealed regarding how powerful the word “triggered” was. The participants also found moments of resistance when they spoke outside of psy- discourses, and positioned themselves as knowledgeable regarding “triggering” experiences, excluding staff from this knowledge. Implications for research, as well as for developing more liberatory approaches to healing that encourage more equal power relations, are discussed.


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