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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Conception of a higher power amongst recovering alcoholics Plumstead, Barbara


Historically, mainstream psychology has viewed spirituality as irrelevant and/or inappropriate material for non-religious counselling settings. With increasing recognition of constructivist research and a renewed interest in holistic counselling approaches, spirituality has become an acceptable topic for counselling research and is theorized to be a central factor in the development of wellness across the life span. However, spirituality has not been clearly defined, and no known study has been made of the ways in which people conceptualize a higher power. Working from within the constructivist paradigm, this study used phenomenographic techniques to arrive at categories of description which capture the qualitatively different ways in which recovering alcoholics understand and experience a higher power. Using purposeful sampling methods, a sample of seven women and men was drawn from the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, a program which actively promotes reliance on a power greater than oneself but does not specify any particular conception of a higher power. During individual, audio-taped interviews, participants described concrete experiences which had in some way affected their conception of a higher power. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed, yielding seven qualitatively different ways of conceptualizing a higher power: as Vengeful Judge, as Human Fabrication, as Bird-Goddess, as Loving Father, as Spirit of Love, as Universal Order and as Everything. The conceptions describe not people, but the various ways in which people think about a higher power; individuals were found to shift from one conception to another over time, and in different circumstances. Viewed along a continuum, the conceptions reveal an increasing sense of connection with self, others and the infinite as the source of power is internalized and an intrinsic system of values is developed. The findings support recent theories suggesting that spirituality plays a central role in the development of wellness.

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