Dissertation Title:

Liminal Illness: A Narrative Inquiry, Blood Cancer Treated With Stem Cell Transplant


Robin Beresford

Date, Time & Place:

September 2, 2022 at 11:00 am


Rarely have patients with a life-threatening blood cancer that has been treated with a potentially curative stem cell transplant been invited and allowed to describe the experience. This research study utilized a narrative inquiry methodology to explore the lived experience of 13 participants, who were either interviewed or asked to provide written or audio responses to study questions. From the stories of each participant, and inspired by anthropologist van Gennep’s concepts of rites of passage, this research found that an overarching pattern of three stages of liminal illness emerged, consisting of the Pre-Liminal Illness Stage, the Liminal Illness Stage and the Post Liminal Illness Stage. This dissertation (a) elucidates specific features and landmarks of the space/time of liminal illness, characterized most prominently by the proximity to death, pervasive vulnerability, and the unknown; (b) describes actions or occurrences that participants found to map the space/time of liminal illness; (c) elucidates specific turning points in which the perceived proximity to death receded; (d) emphasizes the essential nature of the transference to the primary oncologist; (e) identifies a remaining liminal thread post treatment; and (f) highlights participants’ expressions containing metaphoric language. Depth psychological perspectives enabled this exploration of the suffering, spirituality, and changes in identity and the self that resulted from the monumental disruption of this illness in the life trajectory of each participant.

  • Program/Track/Year: Depth Psychology Psychotherapy, T, 2014
  • Chair: Dr. Elizabeth Nelson
  • Reader: Dr. Sabine Oishi
  • External Reader: Dr. Macaran Baird
  • Keywords: Life-threatening Illness, Liminality, Liminal Illness, Suffering, Leukemia