Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation




Clinical-Community Psychology

First Advisor

Bret Kloos


Through most of the history of the treatment of mental illness, services have had a minimal focus on empowerment of people with serious mental illness. This study aims to identify ways that empowerment is facilitated with people who have mental illnesses in the context of their services. Specifically, this research focuses on how relationships and communication have the potential to support and inhibit the empowerment process. The interpersonal connection component is integral to empowerment in mental health services because this process is one that is most commonly addressed in conjunction with the other people. Therefore, it is important to understand the ways in which empowerment in mental health programs is facilitated and inhibited through interpersonal connection.

A qualitative research design was used to investigate interpersonal connection and empowerment. It includes qualitative interviews with consumers, direct staff providers, and administrators in two mental health settings. One is an International Center for Clubhouse Development certified site that explicitly focuses on empowerment, and the other is a young adult program run by a mental health center whose focus on empowerment is more implicit. With these differing considerations on empowerment, the sites were compared in order to explore whether it was relevant in consumers' experience of empowerment. The young adult population, who experience different kinds of disempowerment than those that older individuals have experienced during long term stays in state hospitals, was the focus of the study. The following areas were the focus of research questions: (1) understandings of empowerment, (2) how people communicate about empowerment, (3) experiences of empowerment and disempowerment, and (4) differences in empowerment between two mental health focused sites. Thirty consumers, 10 direct staff service providers, and two administrators were interviewed at two research sites. Each participant was interviewed two times with a semi-structured questionnaire, and the Empowerment Scale (Rogers, et al., 1997) was included for consumer participants in the first interview. Data was transcribed and processed using modified grounded theory methods.

According to the results of the study, participants focused on understanding empowerment in terms of concrete (behavioral) and psychological (cognitive and emotional) empowerment. Participants addressed more concrete empowerment experiences on their own, and received more emotional support in their empowering experiences with others. Those at the two sites described similar experiences of empowerment, though their ways of getting to them in services are different. Participants at both sites rated their empowerment fairly highly on the Empowerment Scale (Rogers, et al., 1997), and this is examined in the context of the qualitative data. Implications of these findings are that staff providers should focus primarily on psychological empowerment in their interactions. A revised model is proposed in the discussion section that focuses on multiple pathways to achieving empowerment.