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Dr Zoe Boden-Stuart

Profile summary

Professional biography

I am Lecturer in Critical and Psychosocial Mental Health and a UKCP accredited Gestalt group and individual psychotherapist in private practice. I joined the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at The Open University in September 2023. Prior to that I lectured in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and conducted research within the Centre for Transforming Sexuality and Gender at the University of Brighton. I have held Postdoctoral Research Fellowships at University of Birmingham and SANE mental charity and I completed my PhD at Birkbeck University of London and my psychotherapy MA at the Gestalt Centre London. Before that, I worked in the creative industries, having originally trained as a contemporary dancer.

My research is interdisciplinary and focuses on understanding the relational context of distress and recovery, using qualitative and creative methods. It draws together threads from my background in creative, psychological and psychotherapeutic theory and praxis. I enjoy collaborating with researchers from a wide range of disciplines, as well as practitioners and people with lived experience, with the aim of humanising and enriching our understanding of distress and wellbeing.

Research interests

My research focuses on understanding the lived experience of relationships and connectedness in the context of psychological distress and recovery. This incorporates an interest in themes such as care, intimacies, connectedness, loneliness, isolation, and belonging. I have primarily focused on relational experiences of complex mental health needs, such as ‘psychosis’ and suicidality, thinking about these experiences as contexts in which relational life can be disrupted and where interpersonal aspects are often overlooked by mental health services. More recently I have turned my attention to LGBTQ+ mental health and explored how people’s relationships to places and others are shaped by their experiences of distress and recovery.

I am an empirical qualitative researcher, collaborating with community partners including statutory and third-sector providers of mental health care, and with academics across a range of disciplinary backgrounds including geography, psychiatry, social work and philosophy. Methodologically I position myself as a hermeneutic-phenomenological researcher. My methods are qualitative, typically interview-based and often involve inviting participants to draw images that relate to their experiences. I am influenced by Merleau-Ponty, particularly using his thinking to guide my concern with the felt, situated, temporal and intersubjective aspects of lived experience. I have written about the incorporation of visual and creative methods into hermeneutic-phenomenological research methods, and also have an interest in the process of conducting qualitative research on emotionally demanding topics, such as suicidality.

Research grants

2022-23: From isolation to connectedness? Understanding the pathways between mobilities and relationalities for LGTBQ+ people with mental health challenges across the lifespan (follow-on funding from UKRI via the ‘Loneliness, social isolation and mental health network’ at UCL). PI: Zoë Boden-Stuart

2020-22: Pathways between LGBTQ+ migration, social isolation and mental distress: The temporal-relational-spatial experiences of LGBTQ+ mental health service-users (funded by UKRI via the ‘Loneliness, social isolation and mental health network’ at UCL). PI: Zoë Boden-Stuart

2019-20: Intimacy, medication and mental health (pilot funded by University of Brighton). PI: Zoë Boden-Stuart

2018-19: Feeling sexual inside and out: Bodies and boundaries in forensic mental health (funded by Wellcome Trust). PI: Paula Reavey.

2017-18: Relatedness and relationships in mental health (funded by Independent Social Research Foundation). PI: Zoë Boden

2017-18: Psychosis, connectedness and emerging adulthood (funded by Richard Benjamin Trust). PI: Zoë Boden


Doctoral Supervision

I welcome enquiries from people interested in exploring undertaking a PhD with me. Like many people, I see the PhD as an apprenticeship. My supervisory style is collaborative and compassionate, recognising that people are often drawn to research topics that speak to them personally. My approach takes the form of mentorship through the PhD process.

I am interested in supervising PhD or postdoctoral projects that explore what-it-is-like to live and love at times when there is a challenge to mental health or wellbeing. I am also interested in understanding what it is like to care for, live with, and love someone at these times. Exploring relationality in the context of mental health incorporates themes of social in/exclusion, belonging, marginalisation (particularly where gender and/or sexuality intersects with mental health status), and community, as well as intimacy, sexuality and connectedness, amongst others. Projects exploring the impacts of services and interventions (e.g. medication, psychotherapy) on relational networks are also of interest.

I only supervise projects that use qualitative research methods and that take an experiential approach, typically phenomenological, but also narrative, thematic etc. I have specialist expertise in creative, visual and embodied approaches and welcome coproduced, codesigned or other collaborative methodologies. I also enjoy being part of PhD projects that include arts based enquiry or are interdisciplinary with creative and performing arts disciplines.

I have supervised seven doctoral projects to completion and examined over 30 doctoral theses (PhD, DClinPsy, DCounsPsy, DEd, DPsychotherapy).

Current PhD students

Suicide prevention and social networks (title tbc) – Helen Mulholland, University of Liverpool, NHS funded (due 2024).

Completed PhDs and professional doctorates:

“Oooo, there it is! … and I was quite excited to have sex again…” A Longitudinal Interpretative Phenomenological Study Exploring the Experiences of Perinatal Sexuality – Dr Amy Middleton, University of Brighton, ESRC funded (2024)

Lived experiences of space in secure mental health units – Dr Katharine Harding, PhD, London South Bank University (2023).

Participating in mental health interventions on television: a multi perspective analysis – Dr Hannah Selby, PhD, University of Brighton, ESRC fuded (2022).

Loss of a sense of aliveness, bodily unhomelikeness and radical estrangement: A phenomenological inquiry into service users’ experiences of psychiatric medication use in the treatment of early psychosis – Dr Sarah Bögle, PhD, London South Bank University, University funded (2022)

Deep Flow: A tentacular worlding of dance, biosensor technology, lived experiences and embodied materials of the human and non-humankind – Dr Jeanette Ginslov, PhD, London South Bank University, University funded (2021)

Mothers’ decision making about medication for mental health difficulties: A grounded theory study. Dr Sara Holloway, DClinPsy, University of Hertfordshire (2019)

Navigating intimacy with ecstasy: The emotional, spatial and boundaried dynamics of couples’ MDMA experiences – Dr Katie Anderson, PhD, London South Bank University (2017).

Post Doctoral Mentorship

The Multiple Lives of Sexual and Gender Diversity in the Psy Disciplines (Chile and UK) – Dr Tomás Ojeda Guemes, ESRC Post Doctoral Fellow, University of Brighton

Teaching interests

I have over ten years’ experience teaching qualitative methodologies, psychotherapy and counselling, and critical mental health. I have supervised qualitative research extensively at undergraduate, masters and doctoral level.

I am currently involved with the production of a new module in counselling (D230), as well as the presentation of D241 Exploring Mental Health and Counselling and D110 Exploring Psychological Worlds.  

Impact and engagement

All my research involves community engagement and coproduction or collaboration with mental health services and third sector providers. Examples of events and related community-focused publications include:

  • LGBTQIA mental health in Chile and the UK, summer 2023, University of Brighton
    • I supported the project lead, Dr Tomás Ojeda Guemes, on his postdoctoral fellowship project, participating in three knowledge exchange workshops for LGBTQIA mental health practitioners in the UK and Chile.
    • I co-authored a community report that was lead authored by Dr Tomás Ojeda Guemes et al. and published in English and Spanish describing the transnational discussions and conclusions we developed during the knowledge exchange workshops. Tomas has also created a website to accompany the project, which is available in Spanish and English.
  • LGBTQ migration, social isolation and distress, 28th September 2022, Friends Meeting House, Brighton.
    • This event brought together LGBTQ+ mental health organisations, people with lived experience, academics and local councillors to discuss how Brighton could better support LGBTQ+ newcomers to the city, especially those experiencing mental health needs. The project was a collaboration with MindOut
    • The associated community report can be downloaded here and a one page summary can be found here
    • A summary of the project can be found on the University of Brighton’s Centre for Transforming Sexuality and Gender blog and some press coverage can be found here: GScene, The Argus, and Pink News
    • I shared the findings of our project with Brighton and Hove City Council at their Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee, 9th March 2023.
  • Relatedness and relationships in mental health, 12th September 2016.
    • This event brought together academics from a range of disciplines, mental health practitioners, people with lived experience.
    • Speakers from philosophy, social care, psychiatry and psychology shared research findings and perspectives on the role of relationships in contemporary mental health care.


The dynamics of interpersonal trust: implications for care at times of psychological crisis (2024)
Larkin, Michael and Boden-Stuart, Zoë
Philosophical Psychology, 37(1) (pp. 148-166)

The Performative Narrative Interview: A creative strategy for data production drawing on dialogical narrative theory (2022-04-19)
Collado, Sebastián and Boden-Stuart, Zoë
Qualitative Research, 23(5) (pp. 1418-1438)

Choreographies of sexual safety and liminality: Forensic mental health and the limits of recovery (2022-03-16)
Reavey, Paula; Brown, Steven D.; Ravenhill, James P.; Boden-Stuart, Zoë and Ciarlo, Donna
SSM - Mental Health, 2, Article 100090

Young adults’ dynamic relationships with their families in early psychosis: Identifying relational strengths and supporting relational agency (2021-03-27)
Boden‐Stuart, Zoe V.R.; Larkin, Michael and Harrop, Chris
Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 94(3) (pp. 646-666)

‘Sometimes labels need to exist’: exploring how young adults with Asperger’s syndrome perceive its removal from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fifth edition (2019-08-19)
Chambers, Bethan; Murray, Clodagh M.; Boden, Zoë V.R. and Kelly, Michelle P.
Disability & Society, 35(4) (pp. 589-608)

‘It was like a lightning bolt hitting my world’: Feeling shattered in a first crisis in psychosis (2019-06-28)
Bögle, Sarah and Boden, Zoë
Qualitative Research in Psychology, 19(2) (pp. 377-404)

Love and incomprehensibility: The hermeneutic labour of caring for and understanding a loved one with psychosis (2019-04-02)
Luderowski, Ana and Boden, Zoë VR
Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine, 24(6) (pp. 737-754)

The experiences of inpatient nursing staff caring for young people with early psychosis (2019-03-05)
Thompson, Jessica; Boden, Zoë VR; Newton, Elizabeth K; Fenton, Kelly; Hickman, Gareth and Larkin, Michael
Journal of Research in Nursing, 24(1-2) (pp. 75-85)

Parallel returns: feelings, temporality and narrative in the experience of guilt (2019-02-14)
Boden, Zoë V.R. and Eatough, Virginia
Qualitative Research in Psychology, 17(1) (pp. 36-52)

Conducting sexualities research: an outline of emergent issues and case studies from ten Wellcome-funded projects (2019)
Kneale, Dylan; French, Robert; Spandler, Helen; Young, Ingrid; Purcell, Carrie; Boden, Zoë; Brown, Steve D.; Callwood, Dan; Carr, Sarah; Dymock, Alex; Eastham, Rachael; Gabb, Jacqui; Henley, Josie; Jones, Charlotte; McDermott, Elizabeth; Mkhwanazi, Nolwazi; Ravenhill, James; Reavey, Paula; Scott, Rachel; Smith, Clarissa; Smith, Matthew; Thomas, James and Tingay, Karen
Wellcome Open Research, 4, Article 137

‘Never drop without your significant other, cause that way lies ruin’: The boundary work of couples who use MDMA together (2019)
Anderson, Katie; Reavey, Paula and Boden, Zoë
International Journal of Drug Policy, 71 (pp. 10-18)

Picturing ourselves in the world: Drawings, interpretative phenomenological analysis and the relational mapping interview (2018-11-30)
Boden, Zoë; Larkin, Michael and Iyer, Malvika
Qualitative Research in Psychology, 16(2) (pp. 218-236)

A Step Too Far for Teachers? (2018)
Scotcher, Alice and Boden, Zoë
The Psychologist, 31 (pp. 2-7)

If psychosis were cancer: a speculative comparison (2017-05-30)
Larkin, Michael; Boden, Zoë and Newton, Elizabeth
Medical Humanities, 43 (pp. 118-123)

Understanding Adaptation to First Episode Psychosis Through the Creation of Images (2017)
Attard, Angelica; Larkin, Michael; Boden, Zoë and Jackson, Christopher
Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Mental Health, 4(1) (pp. 73-88)

Non-attendance at psychological therapy appointments (2016-09-12)
Binnie, James and Boden, Zoë
Mental Health Review Journal, 21(3) (pp. 231-248)

Exhausted without trust and inherent worth: A model of the suicide process based on experiential accounts (2016-06-25)
Benson, Outi; Gibson, Susanne; Boden, Zoë V.R. and Owen, Gareth
Social Science & Medicine, 163 (pp. 126-134)

The experiential impact of hospitalisation: Parents’ accounts of caring for young people with early psychosis (2015-04-29)
Hickman, Gareth; Newton, Elizabeth; Fenton, Kelly; Thompson, Jessica; Boden-Stuart, Zoë VR and Larkin, Michael
Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 21(1) (pp. 145-155)

On the Brink of Genuinely Collaborative Care: Experience-Based Co-Design in Mental Health (2015-03-31)
Larkin, Michael; Boden, Zoë V. R. and Newton, Elizabeth
Qualitative Health Research, 25(11) (pp. 1463-1476)

The Impact of Participating in Suicide Research Online (2014-08-11)
Gibson, Susanne; Boden, Zoe V. R.; Benson, Outi and Brand, Sarah L.
Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 44(4) (pp. 372-383)

Understanding More Fully: A Multimodal Hermeneutic-Phenomenological Approach (2014-03-06)
Boden, Zoë and Eatough, Virginia
Qualitative Research in Psychology, 11(2) (pp. 160-177)

The experiential impact of hospitalisation in early psychosis: Service-user accounts of inpatient environments (2014)
Fenton, Kelly; Larkin, Michael; Boden, Zoë V.R.; Thompson, Jessica; Hickman, Gareth and Newton, Elizabeth
Health & Place, 30 (pp. 234-241)

Understanding treatment non-adherence in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder: a survey of what service users do and why (2013-05-29)
Gibson, Susanne; Brand, Sarah L; Burt, Sarah; Boden, Zoë V R and Benson, Outi
BMC Psychiatry, 13(1)

Introduction: Why relationships matter for mental health (2024-03-27)
Boden-Stuart, Zoë and Larkin, Michael
In: Boden-Stuart, Zoë and Larkin, Michael eds. Relationships and Mental Health: Relational experience in distress and recovery
ISBN : 9783031500466 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : London

Conceptual Foundations: Relational thinking for mental health contexts (2024-03-24)
Boden-Stuart, Zoë and Larkin, Michael
In: Boden-Stuart, Zoë and Larkin, Michael eds. Relationships and Mental Health: Relational experience in distress and recovery
ISBN : 9783031500466 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : London

Clinical Foundations: A brief history of relational practice (2024-03-24)
Boden-Stuart, Zoë and Wilcox, Charlotte
In: Boden-Stuart, Zoë and Larkin, Michael eds. Relationships and Mental Health: Relational experience in distress and recovery
ISBN : 9783031500466 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : London

Concluding thoughts: Relational hopes, relational realities (2024-03-24)
Larkin, Michael and Boden-Stuart, Zoë
In: Boden-Stuart, Zoë and Larkin, Michael eds. Relationships and Mental Health: Relational experience in distress and recovery
ISBN : 9783031500466 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : London

Moving from social networks to visual metaphors with the Relational Mapping Interview (2021)
Boden, Zoë V. R. and Larkin, Michael
In: Reavey, Paula ed. A Handbook of Visual Methods in Psychology [2nd Edition] (pp. 358-375)
ISBN : 9781351032063 | Publisher : Routledge

Using experience-based co-design to improve inpatient mental health spaces (2019)
Boden, Zoë; Larkin, Michael and Springham, Neil
In: McGrath, Laura and Reavey, Paula eds. The Handbook of Mental Health and Space Community and Clinical Applications
Publisher : Routledge

Terror and Horror: Feelings, Intersubjectivity and ‘Understanding at the Edges’ in an Interview on a Suicide Attempt (2018)
Boden, Zoë V. R.
In: Pompili, Maurizio ed. Phenomenology of Suicide (pp. 51-71)
Publisher : Springer | Published : Cham

An affective (re)balancing act? The liminal possibilities for heterosexual partners on MDMA (2018)
Anderson, Katie; Reavey, Paula and Boden, Zoë
In: Juvonen, Tuula and Kolehmainen, Marjo eds. Affective Inequalities in Intimate Relationships (pp. 19-33)
Publisher : Routledge

Varieties of disgust in self-harm (2015)
Benson, Outi; Boden, Zoë V. R. and Vitali, Diego
In: Overton, Paul G.; Powell, Philip A. and Simpson, Jane eds. The Revolting Self: Perspectives on the Psychological, Social, and Clinical Implications of Self-Directed Disgust (pp. 187-205)
ISBN : 9781782200086 | Publisher : Karnac Books

Relationships and Mental Health: Relational Experience in Distress and Recovery (2024-03-24)
Boden-Stuart, Zoë and Larkin, Michael eds.
ISBN : 9783031500466 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : London

LGBTQ migration, social isolation and distress: Liberation, care and loneliness (2022)
Boden-Stuart, Zoë; McGlynn, Nick; Smith, Matt C; Jones, Helen and Hirani, Rita
Centre for Transforming Sexuality and Gender