A Phenomenological Exploration of the Loss of a Parent in Childhood


  • Rita Westwood
  • Juliet Harris
  • Paul West
  • Lynne Walker


We investigated how the death of a parent, in childhood, represents a profound psychological insult. Although a number of studies have examined rates of depression and anxiety in bereaved children, less attention has been given to understanding predictors of children's adjustment to the loss. Data collection involved a one-time semi-structured interview. Data are presented from 4 participants in which a parent had died. The participants were split into two groups those whose parent had died when they were under 7 and those over 7, the interviews being conducted by one of the researchers. Using multiple regression questions, potential predictors of children's psychosocial adjustment to parental death are examined and their relative importance is discussed. Among the predictors considered were child's age, child's gender, deceased parent's gender, time since death, length of illness, presence of siblings, sense of responsibility and parental communication patterns. The child's perception of the surviving parent's level of openness in parental communication was found to be significantly correlated with lower levels of depressive symptoms and state anxiety in bereaved children. The single man reported lower levels of depressive symptoms than did the women, and the participants reported lower levels of state anxiety as the years had passed.

Author Biographies

Rita Westwood

Rita is working toward registration with the UKCP as an Integrative Psychotherapist. Her background is in social care working within a children and families service. She has a personal and professional interest in bereavement and trauma and is a member of a regional Major Incident Response Team. Contact: rita@westkingfisher.fsnet.co.uk

Juliet Harris

Juliet is in her final year of study for registration with the UKCP as an Integrative Psychotherapist. She is Service Manager for the Scarborough & District Mediation Service and The Meeting Place, a child and family contact centre. She is a member of the regional Domestic Abuse Forum and is also a member of a group psychotherapy practice in Hull, UK. Contact: via mail@scpti.co.uk

Paul West

Paul West, BSc (Hon) Psychology, Diploma Applied Social Sciences. Paul is working towards registration as an Integrative Psychotherapist with UKCP and is a student at the Scarborough Psychotherapy Training Institute. He has a private practice in Weardale in the North East England. He has almost 20 years military experience, with a special interest in the family dynamics of Service separation due to military conflict. In 2008 Paul hopes to progress his training by enrolling on a proposed European wide doctoral programme. Contact: weardaletherapy@tiscali.co.uk

Lynne Walker

Lynne is currently in the final year of training in Integrative Psychotherapy at the Scarborough Psychotherapy Training Institute. She is a BACP accredited counsellor and has worked for the Humber Mental Health Trust in primary care counselling and PTSD, for the past 5 years. She also has a private therapy practice and supervises counsellors in training. She is particularly interested in early childhood trauma and loss and posttraumatic stress disorder. Contact: lynne@dljn.karoo.co.uk



How to Cite

Westwood, R., Harris, J., West, P., & Walker, L. (2007). A Phenomenological Exploration of the Loss of a Parent in Childhood. European Journal for Qualitative Research in Psychotherapy, (2), 32–41. Retrieved from https://ejqrp.org/index.php/ejqrp/article/view/14