Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education

Major Professor

Melinda M. Gibbons

Committee Members

Joel Diambra, Shawn Spurgeon, Sandra Thomas


Since the start of recorded history, accounts are replete of individuals being subjected to unthinkable experiences that possess the power to fundamentally disrupt their lives. Survivors of psychological trauma encounter numerous obstacles on the pathway to recovery (Briere & Scott, 2015). Counselors working with this population continue to search for effective strategies in support of restoration (Boxer & Sloan-Power, 2013). One possibility often discussed by trauma survivors in popular media as helpful is tattoo acquisition. However, our understanding of this body modification practice is incomplete due to a social history of stigma and bias (Stein, 2011). The purpose of this study was to explore the ameliorative and therapeutic factors of tattoo acquisition for adult survivors of trauma. Hermeneutic phenomenology was selected as the means for interpreting the lived experience of six trauma survivors who acquired tattoos directly related to their traumatic life events, against a theoretical background informed by Herman’s (1997) stage model of recovery. Several themes emerged relative to this relationship indicative of a thoughtful expressive act, meaning construction, reclamation of control, calming comfort, and precipitator of growth. These themes represent new knowledge regarding the connection between trauma survivors and the use of tattoos. In essence, tattoo acquisition for these participants facilitated movement from a state of brokenness to one of evolving wholeness. The significance of these findings include contributions to our understanding of this practice that may lead to creative interventions for addressing human suffering and the unique needs of trauma survivors. They also serve to help move the topic of tattooing away from a solely deviant discourse. Implications for both counselors and counselor educators are discussed. Recommendations for future research are also outlined.

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