Counseling research project will assess experiences of women of color in medical treatment settings

Investigating the experiences of women with invisible illnesses in medical settings: A comparison of intersectional identities
RANA YAGHMAIAN

Assistant Professor Rana Yaghmaian will expand her work in rehabilitation counseling with this new grant from the Dean’s Funds for Excellence.

It was the experience of a close family member that sent Yaghmaian’s career on this trajectory. This person lived nearly three decades with an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder, consistently being told by medical personnel that her symptoms were psychosomatic in nature.

Yaghmaian’s work focuses on women with chronic, ambiguous, and invisible illnesses. She states that there is very compelling evidence that women with chronic illnesses must constantly adapt to, negotiate, and interact with the social environment, specifically medical settings, in ways that are intimately connected to the intersection of gender and illness. Studies reveal that women in general are perceived as overly emotional and burdensome in medical settings, and Yaghmaian has stated that this is especially true for women with the types of conditions she studies. According to her research, when medical practitioners fail to diagnose a problem through conventional methods, women are often told legitimate physical symptoms are “all in your head.” As a result, women can feel invalidated and disempowered. This messaging leads to delayed and ineffective care, and could impact the individual’s ability to participate fully in important life roles and achieve good a quality of life. Yaghmaian will continue her line of research around this topic, specifically focusing on ways in which the experiences of women of color compare to those of women with privileged racial identities.

Yaghmaian plans to conduct her research using quantitative and qualitative research methodology, specifically investigating the experiences of women who seek conventional medical care. This grant will give Yaghmaian the opportunity to design and develop the project over the next year and to nurture University and community partnerships to collaborate and expand the work. Her ultimate goal is to organize a research team that can move the project forward for possible federal funding. This could provide opportunities for PSU students to work on an important project that is relevant to the community, and at the same time reflects the GSE’s and the University’s emphasis on diversity and social justice.

“The overarching purpose of this project, and the reason I’m so interested in this line of research, is that I want to use this work as part of my commitment to advocacy for women and women of color with chronic illness and disability,” said Yaghmaian. “I want to explore intersections of gender, race, and illness to ultimately improve quality of life for these women.”

Yaghmaian is the coordinator of the Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling program in the Counselor Education Department.

This is one of a 4-part series of projects funded by the 2018 Dean’s Fund for Excellence. For more information or to contribute to the Dean’s Fund for Excellence, or any other GSE fund, please contact Scott Shlaes, shlaess@psuf.org, or call 503-725-4789.

NEXT: Two ground-breaking GSE programs collaborate on “what’s possible?”

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