Document Type



Doctor of Education


Counselor Education

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Susan Kashubeck-West, Ph.D.


Virginia Navarro, Ph.D.

Angela Coker, Ph.D.

Jody Miller, Ph.D


Prisons have become a primary location for mental health services, yet little research has been done to investigate the clinical relationships experienced by a growing population of female inmates. This qualitative study was based upon intersectional theory and explored the experiences of 12 female inmates through in-depth interviews about receiving mental health services in prison and the quality of the working alliance with mental health professionals. Additionally, suggestions for improving mental health services in the prison system are documented. Through 12 semi-structured interviews the researcher listened to narratives of these participants and their mental health journeys. Using open and axial coding a codebook was developed to identify underlying emergent themes, as well as descriptors to characterize each person’s perspective about therapeutic relationships and overall psychotherapeutic experience. This study reports on the qualities of a working alliance that inmates believe are central to an effective working relationship with a mental health professional. Although study participants reported an overall positive working alliance with their mental health professionals, they also disclosed divergent definitions of a working alliance in practice, including avoiding counseling because of fear of peer ridicule and isolation in ‘the hole,’ a solitary place. Candid sharing of previous trauma directly connected past oppressive experiences to present mental health challenges. The participants supported the use of counseling within the penal system and advocated for post release mental health services to ease their transition and mental health needs after release.

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