Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Arts and Science)

First Supervisor

Dr Caroline Bulsara

Second Supervisor

Dr Jacqui Dodds


Using a phenomenological lens this qualitative study explored the experience of self-compassion in self and other relating in Western Australian women breast cancer survivors (BCS). A purposive sample of 17 participants were drawn from women aged between 35 and 70 years of age who had completed treatment for primary breast cancer and had been disease-free for a minimum period of 12 months.

Participants were asked to take part in an in-depth semi-structured interview.

Additionally, eight participants interviewed engaged in three, one-hour Opening to

Self-Compassion sessions and three, four-hour sessions (12-hours in total) of a

Personal Reflection Program.

Data was gathered using one-on-one semi-structured interviews with three participants who each were a significant other (e.g., spouse) in the life of a woman with breast cancer. Three counsellors working with BCS were also invited to take part in a semi-structured interview. Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was used to analyse data from all interviews. The Opening to Self-Compassion

Sessions and Personal Reflection Program were analysed using a participant observer method. Major themes identified that BC survivor participants had difficulty prioritising their needs over needs of others, and only post-BC began to consider their own needs. Through a focus on physical survival BC had brought a realisation of personal resourcefulness previously unrealised. Self-compassion was not well understood and a number of participants reported concern about being judged as selfish. Interviews with Significant Others revealed challenges in witnessing their wife’s physical illness and emotional distress as well as attempts to retain a sense of normality in life. Counsellors interviewed reported experiencing a deep state of compassion when working with BCS.

This study makes a contribution to enhanced understanding of ways women living with long-term after-effects of breast cancer relate with themselves and their body. This study also provides valuable information on whether self-compassion can help ease emotional burdens of survivorship. The question is whether self-compassion can support healthy mobilisation of intrapersonal resources and support reduction in post-treatment anxiety and depression in survivors of breast cancer. The findings make a valuable contribution to the design and delivery of psychological interventions for BCS. In particular the relevance and implications of inclusion of self-compassion training in counselling interventions for BC survivors is highlighted.

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