An existential phenomenological exploration of the lived experience of freedom in former political prisoners of the Romanian Communist Gulag

Barnett, Oana Laura (2021) An existential phenomenological exploration of the lived experience of freedom in former political prisoners of the Romanian Communist Gulag. DCPsych thesis, Middlesex University / New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling. [Thesis]

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There is an absence of literature on the experience of former political prisoners of the Romanian Communist Gulag and their experience of freedom/oppression. Most research on individuals subjected to physical or/and psychological torture for political reasons has focused on the traumatic experiences of this client group and their sequelae approximating the diagnostic criteria of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was the purpose of this research to reflect on the gaps in the literature and highlight the potential importance of turning towards an experiential and phenomenological understanding of freedom for this particular subgroup. This was an idiographic investigation capturing the first-hand experiential accounts of six former political prisoners of the Romanian Communist Gulag. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to elicit the participants’ understanding of freedom before, during and after incarceration and the resources that they drew upon in the face of overwhelmingly distressing life circumstances, such as those of political torture. The data was analysed using Critical Narrative Analysis (Langdridge, 2007), a method which facilitates a hermeneutic phenomenological inquiry into the unique individual experiences as well as commonalities amongst participants. The inclusion of a critical moment allowed an exploration of the interplay of personal narratives and the frameworks of dominant narratives and canonical cultural discourses. The participants conceptualised their freedom in close relation to taking action, understood as active political engagement – not so much as an abstract quality or trait; their actions were guided by the compass of their own values and beliefs, which facilitated a positive appraisal of adversity; the noetic dimension of freedom was prominent, articulated as psycho-spiritual autonomy and congruence with the ‘voice within’, which was inseparable form a transcendental orientation towards meaning and didn’t alter with the passing of time. Narrators described the collective power of being with others and their spirituality as central to their coping. Findings also highlighted the significance of disgruntlement with the present political context in Romania and the government’s failure to purge Communism from key power structures and collective mentalities. Canonical cultural narratives of freedom were also discussed with reference to narrators’ stories. The implications of the project’s findings for counselling psychology theory and practice were explored.

Item Type: Thesis (DCPsych)
Sustainable Development Goals:
Keywords (uncontrolled): Communism; Romanian Gulag; existential therapy; counselling psychology; freedom; oppression; political prisoners; torture; social justice
Research Areas: A. > School of Science and Technology
B. > Theses
C. Collaborative Partners > New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling (NSPC)
Item ID: 35444
Depositing User: Lisa Blanshard
Date Deposited: 21 Jul 2022 09:12
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2022 17:43

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