My PhD aims to examine similarities and differences of young people’s experiences with sensory hallucinations and imaginary companions, and the factors influencing those experiences. Due to the limited knowledge around this subject, the research will also analyse the perspectives of parents and carers in relation to their appraisal of their children’s experiences. Together, the research aims to contribute to understanding the interplay between these related experiences. 

The study will utilise a mixed methods approach using both qualitative and quantitative methods, with both methods intended to complement one another. The study can be divided into three phases:  

Phase 1- A systematic review and meta-synthesis in which the findings will inform the design of the of the study and help develop questions for the online survey, interviews and focus groups. 

Phase 2- The qualitative phase will be a phenomenological investigation with children and parents/carers by formulating an online survey and facilitating semi structured interviews. Additionally, focus groups may also be included if further data is required. 

Phase 3- The quantitative phase of this study will consist of a quantitative and experimental investigation of cognitive and psychosocial underpinnings of sensory hallucinations and imaginary companions using several self-report measures and experimental tasks.  

The study will involve a PPI (Practical Process Improvement) process prior to data collection methods and specialist services within the NHS and voluntary organisations are involved throughout.  

Unfortunately I do not have any findings yet due to not having commenced data collection methods. However, from my systematic review I was really pleased to find many positive accounts from children and young people with voice hearing experiences and imaginary companions. 

The situation with COVID has been challenging and being away from university and peers has been tough. Doing a PhD can feel very isolating so being away from that peer support has been difficult.  

Thankfully the project did not need adapting too much as the original proposal did include virtual methods of data collection, however it has been important to be aware of the how the COVID-19 situation can change very quickly and the need to be prepared for this. The majority of my data collection can be completed online, however certain measures and tasks do need to be completed face-to-face and in person. Therefore, in the event of future restrictions put in place it is important to consider whether to continue with these particular data collection methods. 

Drawing on my experience of the PhD so far, my advice to other PGRs would be that I think it’s important not to compare yourself to your peers as everyone’s PhD is different and everyone goes at their own pace with this. Throughout my postgraduate journey, I have found it helpful to understand when I am the most productive, which for me is in the morning. However sometimes it’s difficult finding the motivation to get up early and work so a couple of other PhD students and myself created our own little writing group where we meet on Teams once a week and write for a couple of hours! 

Abby was funded through the Manchester Metropolitan Graduate School’s Research Support Award to attend a conference related to her research. You can find out more about the award and upcoming deadlines by visiting the PGR Development Moodle area. 

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