Youth work and spirituality in a time of change
: an interpretative phenomenological analysis

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This 18-month longitudinal Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) (Smith, Flowers, and Larkin 2009) research study explored how youth workers’ experiences of spirituality impacted their practice. Nine youth workers in secular contexts in the UK were interviewed three times to capture the work-related transitions they were undergoing. Each interview had a specific focus linked to the three research objectives: to identify youth workers’ experiences of youth work practice, to explore youth workers’ experiences of spirituality and how (or if) spirituality impacts their youth work practice.

This IPA study found that spirituality impacted youth workers’ practice even with youth workers who do not see themselves as spiritual. Four superordinate themes relevant to youth workers experiences of spirituality were identified: Spiritual Needs, The Spirit of Youth Workers, The Changing Youth Work Identity and Redundancy Induced Loss. When asked about spirituality youth workers spoke about redundancy, restructures and their experience of loss, bereavement, and professional identity.

This research was conducted authentically with the topic of spirituality and with the IPA approach. As a Spiritually Reflexive Researcher, I used freewriting techniques (Elbow 1973) in reflective journals throughout data collection and analysis. Bracketing interviews with a skilled bracketer (Rolls and Relf 2006) identified bias or areas for reflection unknown to the researcher. The two reflexive techniques led to the development of two experiential models: The Researcher’s Experiential Data Collection Journey and The Participants’ Experiential Research Journey.

Whilst the youth work sector, within faith-based and secular youth work, is faced with more redundancies and cuts to the public sector, much can be learnt from the experiences of loss from the youth workers. The consideration of a spiritually compassionate redundancy process should be part of all organisations as they consider the bereavement-like impact of redundancy on staff.
Date of AwardMay 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorRob James (Supervisor), Gill Cressey (Supervisor) & Geraldine Brady (Supervisor)

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