Date of Paper


Type of Paper

Clinical research paper

Degree Name

Master of Social Work (M.S.W.)


Social Work

First Advisor

Pa Der Vang


Social Work


Current lack of consensus for a clinical and legal definition of psychological abuse perpetuates systemic difficulties in addressing this societal problem. This study investigates through qualitative interviewing how adults who have and have not experienced psychological abuse define it, with an intent to gain insight on factors that should be considered in creating such a definition, as well as informing future research and social work practice. Ten participants were interviewed and transcripts created from their responses for content analysis. Twenty-two themes emerged from analysis of these transcripts with a strong emphasis on themes of control, dominance, and manipulation as a component of abuse. This theme was the only one that occurred in 100% of the interviews without major differences of participant interpretation. Participant responses overwhelmingly brought up themes coinciding with the results of prior research on perceptions of psychological abuse in other populations. Implications for policy and social work practice include an emphasis on the subjectivity of psychological abuse and a need for flexibility in establishing a definition for clinical and legal purposes.

Psychological abuse: informing our ability to define this term is the purpose of this paper. However it may be helpful to note that throughout the text this term is meant to include emotional abuse and mental abuse.

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Social Work Commons