Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Psychology - Faculty of Health & Behavioural Sciences


People who have been sexually assaulted or abused will later be influenced not so much by the event itself but by their interpretations of it. This research proposed that when clients disclose their experiences of sexual assault to a counsellor, the resulting validation or invalidation of different foci of their beliefs about the assault and about themselves will affect the likelihood of their beginning to reconstruct their unhelpful beliefs about their experiences, and to move in the direction of optimal functioning. Forty-one participants were interviewed about their experiences of disclosing sexual assault to a counsellor. A personal construct model was developed to account for the role of validation in clients reconstructions of their unhelpful beliefs arising from their sexual assault experiences, and was tested using both qualitative and quantitative research methods. The findings did not wholly support the proposed model. As predicted, invalidation of clients beliefs about their assault experiences, and validation of their meaning-making processes, were found to be integral to enhancing reconstruction of their beliefs. One foci of the model was not upheld. Contrary to the prediction, invalidation of clients beliefs about themselves was found to be more likely to lead to reconstruction than validation of their beliefs about themselves. The personal construct model was revised in the light of these findings. The limitations of the research, suggestions for future research, the usefulness of the personal construct model and the Validation and Reconstruction Assessment Techniques devised to test it, and the clinical implications of the research, are discussed.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.