Self and Identity

We are committed to developing theoretical knowledge that allows us to understand the relationship between identity and health. Our ultimate aim is to use this knowledge to inform real world strategies and interventions to promote individual and societal mental and physical health. We consider ‘self’ as a process, as an ongoing story that involves evaluation and a search for meaning. Our group is particularly interested in developing methodological innovation to enable the exploration of embodied selves and identity.

Broadly, our work is concerned with identity challenges and with the ways in which individuals manage the boundaries of self and the implications for health and wellbeing. We are also interested in the ways in which people communicate their identity through self-representations. We are methodologically pluralistic but particularly use narrative, phenomenological, ethnographic, visual, experimental, and pattern analysis (Q-sort) methods. Our research themes are listed below with examples of completed and ongoing work.

Research themes

Our research themes are listed below with examples of completed and ongoing work.

Embodied Identity

This research theme focuses on understanding challenges to, and the reformulation of, identity following major bodily transitions such as those related to organ transplant, bariatric surgery, and brain injury. It also explores the impact of visible difference, stigma and discrimination on identity.

Jackson, S., Simonds, L.M. & Smith, R.M. (2015). Pancreas and islet transplantation: psychological themes pre- and posttransplant. Current Opinion in Organ Transplantation20, 211-215. doi: 10.1097/MOT.0000000000000164 

Marshall, L., Wilson, N. & Gleeson, K. (2015). Psychological recovery from facial injury following interpersonal assault: a narrative analysis. British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, 53(10), e.97

Wilson, N., O. Breen, & K. Gleeson. (2015). The psychological impact of subjective facial disfigurement following maxillofacial injury. British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, 53(10), e74. 

Jackson, S., Gleeson, K., & Smith, R.M. (2014). Pancreatic transplantation in patients with T1DM: a source of traumatic stress? In W. Weimar & J.J.V. Busschbach (Eds.). Organ Transplantation: Ethical, Legal & Psychosocial Aspects. Germany: Pabst Science Publishers

Jackson, S. & Gleeson, K. (2013). The long-term psychosocial impact of corrective surgery for adults with strabismus. British Journal of Opthalmology, 97, 1356-1357 

Jackson, S., Morris, M. & Gleeson, K. (2013). The long-term psychosocial impact of corrective surgery for adults with strabismus. British Journal of Opthalmology,97, 419-422. 

Dures, E., Rumsey, N., Morris, M., Gleeson, K. (2013). A cross sectional, observational survey to assess levels and predictors of psychological wellbeing in adults with epidermolysis bullosa. Health Psychology Research, 1:e4, 16-20. 

Dures, E., Morris, M., Gleeson, K., & Rumsey, N. (2010). An exploration of the Psychosocial Impact of Epidermolysis Bullosa. Qualitative Health Research, 21, 771-782.

Dures, E. Rumsey, N., Morris, M. & Gleeson, K.  (2010). ‘You’re whatever the patient needs at the time’: The impact on health and social care professionals of supporting people with epidermolysis bullosa. Chronic Illness, 6, 215–227

Frith, H. & Gleeson, K. (2008). Dressing the body: The role of clothing in sustaining body pride and managing body distress. Qualitative Methods of Research in Psychology,5, 1–36

2015-2018: Stroke Odysseys: the effectiveness of singing and movement interventions in the reduction of anxiety and depression in stroke survivors (Laura Simonds & Mark Cropley collaborating with Rosetta Life funded by Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity.) 

2014–present: Pancreatic Transplantation: Southmead Hospital, Bristol.  Richard Smith, Sue Jackson, Kate Gleeson

2007 – present: Gastric Banding: Diabetes Unit, Southmead Hospital, Bristol. Andrew Johnson, Sue Jackson, Jude Hancock, Kate Gleeson (funded by money generated through commercial research studies and a charitable fund)

2015-2018: Jessica Catt - Exploring the experiences of self and identity of people who are “morbidly obese”. (Principal Supervisor: Kate Gleeson)

2013-2018: Nicola Rist - The lived experience of laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding (LAGB) surgery: A narrative exploration. (Principal Supervisor: Kate Gleeson)

2014-2017: Alison Mac Crosain - Evaluating RE-ID: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy group intervention exploring identity after Acquired Brain Injury. (Principal Supervisor: Laura Simonds)

2014-2017: Sarah Whitson - The relationship between body mass index and psychological distress: the role of physical self-concept and social comparisons. (Supervisor: Kate Gleeson)

2014-2017: Elizabeth Goad - A mixed methods study exploring weight related bias in undergraduate and qualified nurses. (Principal Supervisor: Kate Gleeson)


This research theme focuses on the ways in which mental phenomena in the form of unpleasant intrusive thoughts, images, urges, and memories can render the perception of a polluted self. It focuses on examining the beliefs and emotional processes that contribute to and maintain this sense of ‘self as contaminated’ including magical thinking, thought-action fusion, and shame proneness. It also focuses on ways in which feelings of self-contamination might be alleviated.

Kennedy, T. & Simonds, L.M. (2017). Does modifying personal responsibility moderate the mental contamination effect? Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2017.06.004

Simonds, L.M., Demetre, J.D. & Read, C. (2009). Relationships between magical thinking, obsessive-compulsiveness and other forms of anxiety in a sample of non-clinical children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 27, 457-471. doi: 10.1348/026151008X345582

Thorpe, S.J., Patel, S.P. & Simonds, L.M. (2003). The relationship between disgust sensitivity, anxiety and obsessions.  Behaviour Research and Therapy, 41, 1397-1409.

2016-2019: Rebecca Harvey - Am I clean yet? Reducing mental contamination with compassionate imagery. (Principal Supervisor: Laura Simonds)

2016-2019: Rachel Perrett – The relationship between dissociation and mental contamination. (Principal Supervisor: Laura Simonds)

2013-2016: Miriam Green-Armytage - Are disgust, contamination fear and health anxiety associated with desire to avoid contact with people with facial dermatological conditions? (Principal Supervisors: Mary John & Laura Simonds)

2013-2016: Daniella Hallsworth - Perfectionism, moral thought-action fusion and shame proneness as predictors of mental contamination. (Principal Supervisor: Laura Simonds)

2013-2016: Phoebe Horrocks - Comparing the effectiveness of brief writing tasks in reducing feelings of mental contamination. (Principal Supervisor: Laura Simonds)

2013-2016: Tinisha Kennedy - Does modifying personal responsibility moderate the mental contamination effect? (Principal Supervisor: Laura Simonds)

2011-2016: Davis Mpavaenda – Imagery rescripting therapy – a pilot study: reducing shame and cognitive inflexibility in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. (Principal Supervisor: Laura Simonds)

2011-2014: Rebecca Oldaker - Do shame and guilt mediate the relationship between self-domain threat and certainty striving: An experimental investigation. (Principal Supervisor: Laura Simonds)

2010-2013: Rebecca Piper - An experimental study of mental contamination: the role of disgust, shame and guilt. (Principal Supervisor: Laura Simonds)

2010-2013: Joshua Nice - Obsessions and compulsions and sense of self: self-ambivalence, shame, self-compassion and attachment insecurity. (Principal Supervisor: Laura Simonds)

2009-2012: Holly Winton - Self-discrepancy and shame in adolescents: relationships with self-esteem and self-compassion. (Principal Supervisors: Mary John & Laura Simonds)

Making sense of the self

This theme brings together research that focuses on making sense of the self where the self is untypical and/or where visible difference plays a role in representing the self. This is fertile ground for using methodological innovation to explore identity and communicating about the self.

Williams, E. & Gleeson, K., (Accepted, 2017). How pupils on the autism spectrum make sense of themselves in the context of their experiences in a mainstream school setting: a qualitative metasynthesis. Autism: International Journal of Research and Practice.

King, M., Williams, E., & Gleeson, K. (Accepted, 2017). Using photographs to explore self-understanding in adolescent boys with an autism spectrum condition. Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability.

2016-2019: Rebecca Easton - Investigating the way in which children on the Autism Spectrum make sense of themselves and others. (Principal Supervisors: Emma Williams & Kate Gleeson) 

2016-2019: Hannah Senior - The self-perception and self-concept of girls with Autism Spectrum conditions. (Principal Supervisors: Emma Williams & Kate Gleeson) 

2016–2019: Amber Taylor - Exploring the ways in which young women with Autism Spectrum Conditions conceptualise the self. (Principal Supervisors: Emma Williams & Kate Gleeson)

2016-2019: Nicola Godfrey - Exploring staff perceptions of underweight among adult service users with learning disabilities: a qualitative study. (Supervisor: Kate Gleeson)

This research theme focuses on how individuals negotiate the process of making self-disclosures, particularly of thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are experienced as shameful or stigmatizing, and the implications of this for their sense of self. It also considers the meaning of recovery in the context of ongoing and potentially stigmatizing conditions and how identity is negotiated in recovery.

Simonds, L.M. & Spokes, N. (2017). Therapist self-disclosure and the therapeutic alliance in the treatment of eating problems. Eating Disorders, 25, 151-164. doi: 10.1080/10640266.2016.1269557

Sawer, F., Gleeson, K., Davies, P. (Accepted, 2017). Enough of blame; lets talk about shame. Alcoholism

Whiteley, C., Coyle, A., Gleeson, K. (Accepted, 2017). An idiographic analysis of women’s accounts of living with mental health conditions in Haredi Jewish communities. Mental Health Religion and Culture.

John, M., Jeffries, F.W. Acuna-Rivera, M., Warren, F. & Simonds, L.M. (2015). Development of measures to assess personal recovery in young people treated in specialist mental health services. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 22, 513-524. DOI: 10.1002/cpp.1905

Simonds, L.M., Pons, R.A., Stone, N.J., Warren, F. & John, M. (2014).  Adolescents with anxiety and depression: is social recovery relevant? Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 21, 289-298. doi: 10.1002/cpp.1841

Simonds, L.M. & Thorpe, S.J. (2003). Attitudes towards obsessive-compulsive disorders: an experimental investigation.  Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 38, 331-336.

Simonds, L.M. & Elliott, S.A. (2001). OCD patients and nonpatient groups reporting obsessions and compulsions:  Phenomenology, help-seeking, and access to treatment.  British Journal of Medical Psychology, 74, 431-449.

2009-2011: Development and initial validation of a measure of recovery for use in specialist mental health services for young people. (PI: Mary John, CI: Laura Simonds funded by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust)

2015-2018: Karen McMorrow – Disclosure in therapy: a Q-sort study. (Principal Supervisor: Laura Simonds)

2014-2017: Caroline McHugh - Exploring disclosure in therapeutic interventions for disordered eating. (Principal Supervisors: Laura Simonds & Kate Gleeson) 

2014-2017: Terri Porter - Impact of a brief education on stigma related to sexual intrusive thoughts about children. (Principal Supervisor: Laura Simonds) 

2014-2017: Kaighley Wells-Britton - Disclosure of negative intrusions: the relationship with thought-action fusion, shame, guilt and fear. (Principal Supervisor: Laura Simonds) 

2013-2016: Francesca Sawer - The role of shame in alcohol dependence: narratives from those in recovery. (Supervisor: Kate Gleeson) 

2013-2016: Charlie Whiteley - An investigation of the experiences of Haredi Jews with mental health difficulties in their communities. (Principal Supervisor: Kate Gleeson) 

2012-2015: Francesca Palmer - Lay constructions of recovery: A Q methodological study. (Principal Supervisors: Laura Simonds & Mary John) 

2011-2014: Clare Sullivan - Understanding and managing scrupulosity in significant others: an interpretative phenomenological analysis. (Principal Supervisor: Laura Simonds) 

2009-2012: Naomi Spokes - Client non-disclosure in treatment for eating disorders and its relationship with current symptoms: the roles of shame, the therapeutic alliance, and therapist self-disclosure. (Principal Supervisor: Laura Simonds)

Methodological Development

Members of the group are also actively involved in developing and writing about methodological innovation in psychological research

Siassakos, D., Jackson, S., Gleeson, K., & Storey, C.  (2017). All bereaved parents are entitled to good care after stillbirth: a mixed-methods multicentre study (INSIGHT). British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. DOI: 10.1111/1471-0528.14765 

Chebsey, C., Jackson, S., Gleeson, K., Winter, C., Storey, C., Hillman, J., Lewis, J., Cox, R.,  Heazell, A., Fox, R., et al. (2014). Joint perspective, joint decision making; improving maternity bereavement care for stillbirth. A mixed methods multicentre study in the UK providing an in-depth understanding of maternity bereavement. Archives of Disease in Childhood. Fetal Neonatal Edition, 99 Supl1:A22 

Chebsey, C., Siassakos, D., Draycott, T., Winter., C., Jackson, S., Gleeson., K.,  Storey, C., Fox, R.,  & Hillman, J. (2014). Joint perspective, joint decision making; improving maternity bereavement care for stillbirth: A mixed methods multi-centre study in the UK. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaeology, 121, 95 

Frith, H. & Gleeson, K. (2012). Qualitative Data Collection: Asking the right questions? In D. Harper & A. Thompson (Eds.). Qualitative research methods in mental health and psychotherapy: An introduction for students and practitioners. OxfordWiley-Blackwell.

Simonds, L.M., Camic, P.M. & Causey, A. (2012). Using focused ethnography in psychological research. APA Handbook of Research Methods in Psychology. American Psychological Association.

Dures, E., Rumsey, N., Morris, M., & Gleeson, K. (2010). Mixed methods in health psychology: Theoretical and practical considerations of the third paradigm. Journal of Health Psychology20, 1-10. 

Gleeson, K. (2011). Polytextual Thematic Analysis for Visual Data – pinning down the analytic. In, P. Reavey (Ed.). Visual methods in psychology: using and interpreting images in qualitative research. Hove: Psychology Press.

Research team

Research group lead

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Dr Laura Simonds

Senior Teaching Fellow and Academic Director - Clinical Psychology Doctorate

Research group members

Kate Gleeson profile image

Dr Kate Gleeson

Research Director, Doctorate in Clinical Psychology

Mary John profile image

Mary John

Head of the School of Psychology

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Dr Emma Williams

Lecturer in Developmental Psychology

External collaborators

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Sue Jackson

University of West England

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Tinisha Kennedy

Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

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Naomi Spokes

Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust

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University of Surrey