Distress can have a profoundly negative impact on the well-being of women (who are the main receivers of treatment for distress). Distress also poses a huge financial problem for the United Kingdom, the cost of which is predicted to reach over £26bn by 2026. A growing body of research has shown that various medicinal plants have potential to treat different aspects of distress. However, there is little research investigating the patient experience of western herbal practice (WHP), and none investigating women’s experiences of WHP for distress. In response, this longitudinal study utilised interviews with twenty-six women who were visiting herbalists for distress across the south-east of The United Kingdom to elicit their stories of distress, as well as their experiences of WHP. The narratives were analysed from a constructionist standpoint, using inductive thematic analysis.
The participants’ narratives highlighted the profound impact of everyday distress, whilst feelings associated with distress (anxiety, low mood, isolation, shame and guilt) were frequently communicated via the use of metaphors. These negative feelings, often combined with unsuccessful biomedical encounters, frequently led to the women feeling desperate when first visiting a herbalist. The participants’ experiences of WHP showed that an accessible practitioner and good therapeutic relationship combined with flexible herbal treatment, allowed women with diverse stories of distress to overcome feelings of desperation. Ongoing support allowed the women to feel like they had a safety net as they journeyed from a place of distress, back into the wider world. These findings were supported by more unusual negative accounts, which showed how the herbal therapeutic process could be unsuccessful if elements were missing.
This research is of significance as it helps to deepen our understanding of women’s experiences of distress – particularly perceptions of stigma which surround feelings of shame (linked to an inability to cope) and guilt (linked to the perceived impact of distress on others). The research also has relevance for WHP, as it highlights which positive aspects of WHP are of particular importance to women patients who are living with distress.
|Keywords||women, distress, narratives, thematic analysis, metaphors, isolation, shame, guilt, western herbal practice, accessibility, support|