Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Clinical Psychology

Department or School/College

Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Christine Fiore

Commitee Members

Allen D. Szalda-Petree, Jacqueline Brown, Melissa Neff, Elizabeth Hubble


Emotional Abuse, Help-seeking, Intimate Partner Violence, Labeling, Psychological Abuse, Recognition


University of Montana


Despite the prevalence and detrimental impacts of psychological abuse, research has consistently demonstrated that many survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) do not recognize or label these experiences as forms of relationship violence (e.g., Goldsmith & Freyd, 2005; Pipes & LeBov-Keeler, 1997; Raymond & Bruschi, 1989). Several help-seeking models suggest that abuse recognition may be a critical factor for survivors in the help-seeking process (e.g., Burke et al., 2004; Liang et al., 2005). Thus, the present study took a mixed-methods approach to explore what factors survivors identified as important for labeling experiences of psychological abuse and seeking help. As rates of psychological abuse are particularly high for adolescents and young adults (e.g., Fass, Benson, & Leggett, 2008), this study consisted of quantitative and qualitative responses from 116 college students from a northwestern university. As expected, results indicated that participants’ level of perceived harm and frequency of psychological abuse significantly predicted the degree to which they rated their experiences as forms of relationship abuse, while controlling for the effects of gender identity, age, and sexual identity. Results also indicated that frequency of help-seeking attempts and labeling psychologicial abuse were positively associated; however, help-seeking was not found to explain a significant proportion of the variance in labeling beyond the above identified variables. Themes from participants’ qualitative responses identified level of perceived harm and information from supports as the most cited reasons for labeling psychological abuse occurring in their most problematic romantic relationship. While a theme of abuse labeling did emerge as a salient factor for help-seeking, other factors, such as a need for emotional support and advice-seeking, were more commonly identified by participants in this study as reasons for seeking assistance. Results from this study may serve to inform prevention and intervention development for psychological abuse.



© Copyright 2022 Jessica Jean Peatee