School of Health in Social Science

J. Karen Serra U

I am a psychotherapist and I teach and supervise at in Counselling, Psychotherapy and Applied Social Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. Currently, I am at the last stages of my PhD research.

Practices of making sense of oneself: reconceptualising symbolisation and reflexivity

My project is a theoretical exploration of the practices of making sense of oneself. In psychotherapy and in research, we are continuously required to make sense of the experience of clients/participants/texts and also to be reflexive about our own experience while engaging with them. But, how are we conceptualising experience? How are we understanding the processes of symbolisation and reflexivity? How are the relational, social and material dimensions interwoven in our practices of making sense?

To approach these enquires, I use different authors that resonate with me and have moved my thinking/life. These authors come from backgrounds as diverse as existential phenomenology, psychoanalysis, poststructuralism and new materialism. Some of these authors are Butler, Foucault, Barad, Winnicott, Bion, Bollas, Ogden, Benjamin, Levenson, Gendlin and Merleau-Ponty. Through these theories, I enquire into the embodied, relational, social and material dimensions of the processes of symbolisation and reflexivity. I believe that having different perspectives put to work together enables the possibility of relentlessly thinking differently about the practices of making sense of oneself.

I have stated that my research is theoretical but this does not imply that it is separated from my life. I get immersed in the authors that I read to the extent that they transform my life. In this sense, I am not conceiving my research as an activity that I do separate from who I am becoming. I feel them entangled. The approach that suits me the most is a post-qualitative inquiry. St. Pierre (2018) says: “In other words, the post-qualitative researcher must live the theories (will not be able not to live them) and will, then, live in a different world enabled by a different ethico-onto-epistemology” (604). In that sense, the incessant process of conceptualisation opens up/creates different worlds – it produces.

What I want to produce with my research is both to interrogate what are the yieldings of the current ways of making sense of oneself and to enable different ways of articulating what it is to symbolise and to be reflexive so that fresh and useful productivities become available.


St. Pierre, Elizabeth Adams. 2018. "Writing Post Qualitative Inquiry."  Qualitative Inquiry 24 (9):603-608. doi: 10.1177/1077800417734567.