University of Missouri - Saint Louis

The Graduate School


An oral examination in defense of the dissertation for the degree

Doctor of Philosophy in Education

Mariaimeė Muñiz Gonzalez
M.Ed. Community Counseling , 2004, University of Missouri-St. Louis.
B.A. Psychology, 2002, University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Voices from Behind Bars: A Working Alliance?



Prisons have become the primary location for mental health services yet little research has been done to investigate the lives of a growing population of female inmates. The purpose of this grounded theory study was to explore the experiences of female inmates through indepth interviews about receiving: mental health services and the quality of the working alliance with mental health professionals; additionally, suggestions for improvements for mental health services in the prison system were elicited. Through 12 qualitative semi-structured interviews I listened to narratives of these participants and their mental health journeys. Data were analyzed and a codebook developed through open and axial coding to identify the underlying themes and descriptors of each person’s perspective about therapeutic relationships and overall psychotherapeutic experience. The study reports the qualities of the working alliance inmates believe are central to an effective working relationship with a mental health professional. I found that while participants reported a positive working alliance with their mental health professionals, they disclosed definitions of a working alliance that varied as incongruences surfaced, including avoiding counseling because of fear of peer ridicule and isolation in ‘the hole’ and candid sharing of previous trauma. The participants supported the use of counseling within the penal system and advocated for post release mental health services to ease their transition and mental health needs after release.


Date: November 9, 2012

Time: 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

Place: E. Desmond Lee Technology and Learning Center


Defense of Dissertation Committee


Susan Kashubeck-West, Ph.D.(Advisor)

Virginia Navarro, Ph.D.


Angela Coker, Ph.D.

Jody Miller, Ph.D.