Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Leonard Handler

Committee Members

Thomas L. Bell, Ronald E. Hopson, Howard R. Pollio


The purpose of this study was to investigate the human experience of place. A phenomenological approach was utilized employing an unstructured open-ended dialogical interview method. Twenty participants, including ten younger and older adults, were asked to describe places which were special to them.

Interpretation of the interview transcripts revealed five themes descriptive of one's experience of place: Identity, Connection, Security, Possibilities, and Beauty/Awe. The experience of time was interwoven with all five themes.

The theme of Identity comprises the way in which a place can strengthen one's sense of self, provide continuity across the developmental life span, and trigger poignant memories from an earlier time in one's life. The loss of a special place was described as emotionally devastating.

Connection to loved ones, some of whom may be deceased, as well as to something larger than oneself, such as a university or city, describes the second theme. Many participants expressed comfort at the recognition that a place may endure long after one's death.

Security, the third theme, embraces the ability of a place to provide a sense of permanence and tradition, ensure familiarity and safety, and to afford moments of relaxation, solitude, and brief escape from life's problems.

Possibilities encompasses the way in which the participants experienced the environment as challenging their mental and physical abilities, stimulating their imagination, and enriching their opportunities for personal change and growth.

Beauty and Awe. the final theme, includes feelings of appreciation for the splendor of the earth, experiences of feeling alive, a sense of timelessness, and an awareness of a spiritual oneness with the universe.

Present results were discussed in terms of their implications for clinical psychology, most notably the need to recognize the role of the non-human environment in providing stability, identity, and a sense of well-being. Theoretically, this emphasis suggests extending the conceptual meaning of "object" within the context of Object Relations Theory.

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