Professor Mary Boyle

Contact details

Mary Boyle

Position: Emeritus Professor

Telephone: +44 (0)20 8223 4174 (via Claire Correia)

Contact address:

School of Psychology
The University of East London
Stratford Campus
Water Lane
E15 4LZ

Brief biography

Mary Boyle is Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology and was previously Head of the Doctoral Programme in Clinical Psychology. She was also an Honorary Clinical Psychologist in Camden and Islington Mental Health and Social Care Trust, specialising in psychological aspects of women’s health. Her main areas of research and scholarship are in critical clinical psychology, and in feminist approaches to women’s health. She is also interested in raising public awareness of the problems of traditional psychiatric approaches to emotional and behavioural difficulties and is currently engaged in projects developing alternatives to psychiatric classification.

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Areas of Interest/Summary of Expertise

  • Critical Psychology
  • Women’s Health
  • Feminism and Psychology

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Other scholarly activities

  • Fellow of the British Psychological Society
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts
  • International Advisory Board of Feminism and Psychology

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Managing shame: an interpersonal perspective

Leeming, D., & Boyle, M. (2013). British Journal of Social Psychology, 52, 140–160.

Experiences of shame are often difficult to manage, not least because of their interpersonal implications. However, limited research attention has been paid to the management and repair of shame, and in particular to the role that social factors may play in this. We aimed to explore these issues by obtaining 50 written first-person accounts of experiences of managing difficult episodes of shame from a cross-section of students and employees at a British university. These participant-generated narrative accounts were supplemented by written answers to open-ended questions. Via a contextual constructionist thematic analysis, three overarching themes were identified: The centrality of others’ evaluations of the self ; Repositioning the self vis-à-vis others, and Being disabled by shame. Discussion focuses on the first two of these themes which together suggest that because the participants saw their shame as produced in interaction with others, effective management and repair of shame depended not just on a changed view of the self but on a repositioning of the self in relation to others. This analysis therefore suggests that repair of shame may often need to be mutually negotiated and as such provides support for theoretical approaches to shame which emphasize the centrality of others’ actual or perceived judgements of the self.

‘Not a neutral event.’: clinical psychologists’ experience of gifts in therapeutic relationships

Willingham, B., & Boyle, M. (2011). Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 84, 170–183.

Objectives. This study investigated clinical psychologists’ experiences of gifts offered by clients in therapeutic relationships. Since limited prior research on gifts has been undertaken, the study was informed by an inter-disciplinary approach, drawing on theories of ‘the gift’ from anthropology, sociology, and psychoanalysis.

Design and method. A postal survey was undertaken on a 10% random sample of clinical psychologists living in the UK on the Register for Chartered Psychologists (Clinical Section) (N = 441). Responses to three open-ended questions were analysed qualitatively, using thematic analysis.

Results. The response rate to the questionnaire was 50.57% (N = 223). Three main themes were identified: (1) acceptance as the ‘correct’ response to a gift, (2) potency of the gift, and (3) the impact of policy on professional autonomy.

Conclusions. The findings suggested that many participants viewed the gift as a way of the client reciprocating something that was given in the therapy. Within a Maussian account, this notion of reciprocity positions the therapeutic contact as the ‘first gift’. Few gifts were refused and frequently occasioned pleasure in the participants. Although some givers were understood as needing to give because of ascribed intra-individual characteristics or ‘psychopathology’, normative gifting practices were commonly held to apply in therapeutic relationships. Further research should explore clients’ perspectives on gifting.

Developing real alternatives to medical models

Boyle, M. (2006). Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 8, 191–200.

Many challenges to medical models of emotional distress are all too easily assimilated into a medical model and thus lose part of their power. This article suggests some necessary characteristics of challenges that would be much less easy to assimilate, and illustrates these in detail through an analysis of auditory hallucinations or voice hearing.

Adult genital surgery for intersex: a solution to what problem?

Boyle, M., Smith, S., & Liao, L-M. (2005). Journal of Health Psychology, 10, 573–584.

The desirability of routine genital surgery for infants with ambiguous genitalia is increasingly debated. But there is less discussion about intersex adults who choose genital surgery, despite evidence suggesting that the results are often unsatisfactory. This study reports on how six women with intersex conditions decided to have feminising genital surgery and how they evaluated the outcomes. The initial analysis highlighted a chronological transition from surgery as non-dilemmatic to surgery as a serious dilemma; a version of Foucauldian discourse analysis was then used to place the women’s experiences in a cultural context. The implications for psychological involvement in services for women with intersex conditions are discussed.

Shame as a social phenomenon: a critical analysis of the concept of dispositional shame

Leeming, D., & Boyle, M. (2004). Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 77, 375–396.

An increased clinical interest in shame has been reflected in the growing number of research studies in this area. However, clinically oriented empirical investigation has mostly been restricted to the investigation of individual differences in dispositional shame. This study reviews recent work on dispositional shame but then argues that the primacy of this construct has been problematic in a number of ways. Most importantly, the notion of shame as a context free intrapsychic variable has distracted clinical researchers from investigating the management and repair of experiences of shame and shameful identities and has made the social constitution of shame less visible. Several suggestions are made for alternative ways in which susceptibility to shame could be conceptualised, which consider how shame might arise in certain contexts and as a product of particular social encounters. For example, persistent difficulties with shame may relate to the salience of stigmatising discourses within a particular social context, the roles or subject positions available to an individual, the establishment of a repertoire of context relevant shame avoidance strategies and the personal meaning of shamefulness.

Preventing a non-existent illness? Some issues in the prevention of ‘schizophrenia’

Boyle, M. (2004). The Journal of Primary Prevention, 24, 445–469.

The prevention of ‘schizophrenia’ has received little attention, not least because it is claimed that its causes are largely unknown. I argue that this pessimistic view is based on acceptance of both the highly problematic concept of schizophrenia and of the assumption that ‘it’ is a genetic/biological illness. The problems of both the concept and its surrounding assumptions are examined and an alternative model of psychotic behaviour and experience, with very different implications for prevention, is discussed.

Putting abortion in its social context: Northern Irish women’s experience of abortion in England

Boyle, M., & McEvoy, J. (1998). Health, 2, 283–304.

Psychology and psychiatry have tended to approach abortion as a health issue for individual women and to focus on the potentially negative psychological effects of the procedure. This individualistic approach has created an impression of abortion as intrinsically risky for women and has provided a very limited account of the relationship between the social context in which women experience abortion and their responses to it. This article reports a qualitative study of seven women from Northern Ireland (where abortion is very restricted) who had travelled to England for abortions. The analysis revealed strong links between the women’s experience and the very negative public constructions of abortion in Northern Ireland. Possible implications for women’s health care, for the public debate on abortion and for psychology’s role in this debate, are discussed.

Sexual dysfunction or heterosexual dysfunction?

Boyle, M. (1993). Feminism & Psychology, 3, 73–88.

The psychological literature on sexual dysfunction has been mainly concerned with the sexual problems of people in heterosexual relationships. This article takes as its starting point recent attempts to extend this literature to the sexual problems of homosexual women and men. It is argued that such attempts may not have taken sufficient account of the extent to which existing classification systems, nomenclature and theory of sexual problems are based on heterosexist and sexist assumptions about the nature of male and female sexuality, about sexual activity and about what is seen as sexually problematic.

Is schizophrenia what it was? A re-analysis of Kraepelin’s and Bleuler’s Population

Boyle, M. (1990). Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 26, 323–333.

It has been noted that the term ‘schizophrenia’ is now applied to a group in many ways dissimilar to Emil Kraepelin’s cases of dementia praecox and Eugen Bleuler’s of schizophrenia. No detailed explanation has been offered for the difference. This article offers evidence that Kraepelin’s and Bleuler’s concepts were derived from a population largely suffering from organic disorders including the Parkinsonian sequelae of encephalitis lethargica; it describes the conceptual confusion which followed the introduction of post–encephalitic Parkinsonism and discusses some implications for the modern concept of schizophrenia. It is suggested that the differences between earlier and later groups of ‘schizophrenics’ may be accounted for by the decline in prevalence of post–encephalitic Parkinsonism and of the neurological and behavioural sequelae of other diseases, and by the parallel unsystematic development of the concept of schizophrenia.

Boyle, M. (2002). Schizophrenia: a Scientific Delusion? (2nd ed.). London: Routledge

Schizophrenia: A Scientific Delusion?, first published in 1990, made a very significant contribution to the debates on the concept of schizophrenia and mental illness. These concepts remain both influential and controversial and this new updated 2nd edition provides an incisive critical analysis of the debates over the last decade. As well as providing updated versions of the historical and scientific arguments against the concept of schizophrenia which form the basis of the first edition, Boyle covers significant new material relevant to today’s debates, including:

  • The development of DSM-IV’s version of ‘schizophrenia’
  • Analyses of social, psychological and linguistic processes which construct ‘schizophrenia’ as a reasonable version of reality
  • A detailed critical evaluation recent alternatives to the concept of schizophrenia

Schizophrenia: A Scientific Delusion? demonstrates that the need for analysis and debate on these issues is as great as ever and that we still need to question how we think about and manage what we call ‘madness’.

Boyle, M. (1997). Re-thinking abortion: psychology, gender, power and the law. London: Routledge

Only women have abortions, yet it is mainly men who decide whether they may legally have them. Re-thinking Abortion makes this gender imbalance central and shows how a psychological analysis of the abortion debate can increase understanding of why it arouses such strength of feeling. Psychology’s relationship to abortion is complex and pervasive yet traditional approaches neglect the topic or treat it as a health problem of individual women.

Mary Boyle argues that this approach overlooks the social context in which legislation is developed and in which women experience abortion. By making gender central, she reveals many implicit assumptions about women and doctors that underlie the content of abortion legislation and influence women’s experience of abortion.

Re-thinking Abortion is an incisive and original analysis. It highlights inconsistencies and contradictions that show the problematic nature of the ‘pro-life’ position and reveals the nature of the threat presented by ‘abortion on demand’.

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