Date of Award

Spring 5-14-2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Lina Hartocollis, Ph.D., LCSW

Second Advisor

Sabitha Pillai-Friedman, Ph.D., LCSW


This phenomenological study elicited the narratives of young adult women about their childhood experiences with ambiguous loss due to physical paternal absence. Ambiguous loss is defined in this research as a non-death-related loss that is confusing, complicated, or unresolved (Boss, 2006). Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten women between the ages of 22 and 32 for this study. They were selected because they had grown up with a biological father who had been physically absent before they had turned 18 years old. Four themes emerged related to the following: Parental messages and responses to paternal absence; Impact of being “there” but not there; Making sense of identity; and resilience and redefining family. Each theme built upon one another and represented an over-arching story of the phenomenon of paternal absence due to ambiguous loss. Many of the participants expressed a sense of relief when they learned from the researcher that there was a term to describe their experiences of loss related to paternal absence. Participants shared that they felt their experiences with paternal absence were nebulous and unformed prior to learning about the concept of ambiguous loss. This research adds a retrospective lens to the existing literature on paternal absence and ambiguous loss. The current study has many implications for how clinicians can appropriately address confusing or unresolved losses in therapeutic practice.

Included in

Social Work Commons