Susan James

Associate Professor

On leave

Fellow – Michael Smith Society for Health Research

Scholarly Interests:

Cultural Psychology & PsychotherapyImmigrant Mental Health & Culture Specific SyndromesPhilosophical PsychologySpirituality & Psychotherapy

Theoretical Orientation:

Multicultural, mindfulness – based on family systems


Gender & Health Research Award , 2003

Early Career Scholar Award , 2003

Scholar Award , 2003

Grace Anderson Fellowship , 2000

Post-Doctoral Fellowship University of Chicago , 1998

Post-Doctoral Fellowship Harvard Medical School , 1997

Livingston Fellowship Award 1996/97


University of Ottawa

Research Projects

Investigating the link between symptom expression, medicalization and acculturation: The case of Portuguese immigrants
Co-Investigator: M. Beiser, J. Clarke, & T. McIntyre
Supported by: SSHRC & MSFHR
Millions of immigrants are treated in the Canadian health care system. New immigrants in particular, often use terms to describe their emotional and physical states that are unfamiliar or not recognized by health providers. This gap in understanding can sometimes lead to misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment. To empirically investigate this phenomenon, we have chosen to study Portuguese immigrants as a case example and, to focus our research on a prevalent Portuguese specific disorder called agonias, literally meaning “the agonies”.More…

Exploring how acculturation affects expression of mental health in Portuguese immigrant men
Co-Investigators: M. Beiser, J. Clarke & T. McIntyre
Supported by: CIHR
New immigrants often use terms to describe their emotional/physical states that are unfamiliar to medical practitioners. For instance, Portuguese immigrants may use the term agonias (meaning “the agonies”) to describe bodily symptoms. Our previous research showed that medical providers were often not familiar with this term and this gap in understanding at times may have led to misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment. We will build on our previous ethnographic research by qualitatively and quantitatively investigating the discrepancy in the meaning ascribed to agonias by clinicians and community members. We will also investigate how this process is related to acculturation and changes over time. More…

Religious and Spiritual Supports Used by Women Living with Breast Cancer
Principal Investigator: S. Wilson
CO-INVESTIGATOR: J. Clarke, & S. James
Supported by: Ryerson Polytechnic University & CIHR
With improved detection, an increased number of Canadian women live many years following a breast cancer diagnosis. Religious faith is an important source of support in the period following initial treatment. This study is designed to explore ways women with breast cancer use religious and spiritual practice to enhance well-being and feelings of control, and counter feelings of loss, following treatment. The sample will include women from a range of religious and cultural groups. Results of this study will be useful to faith leaders and to health practitioners supporting those in their communities living with cancer. More…

Competing Models and Socio-demographic Differences in the Magazine Portrayal of Disease and Accidents 
Principal Investigator: J. Clarke
Supported by: SSHRC
How can we explain the social causes and consequences of disease and death? What do social statuses such as gender, educational level, income, ethnicity, or religion have to do with being diagnosed with a disease and with the experience of disease? Why do women tend to live longer lives than men and yet suffer more days of disability and disease during these longer lives? Why is the degree of inequity in society associated with the rates of morbidity and mortality in a society? Do diseases have meaning? Do we relate to people with cancer differently than we relate to people who have asthma, diabetes, heart disease or AIDS? Why? More…

Selected Publications

James, S., & Foster, G. (2003). Narratives and culture: “Thickening” the self for psychotherapy. Journal of Theoretical
and Philosophical Psychology, 23(2), 1-25.

Clarke, J., & James, S. (2003). The radicalised self: The impact of the self on the contested nature of the diagnosis of
chronic fatigue syndrome. Social Science & Medicine, 57(8): 1387-1395.

James, S. (2002). Agonias: The social and sacred suffering of Azorean Immigrants. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry,
26, 87-110.

James, S., & Prilleltensky, I. (2002). Cultural diversity and mental health: Towards integrative practice. Clinical
Psychology Review, 22, 1133-1154.

James, S., Hunsley, J., & Hemsworth, D. (2002). Factor analytic study of the Relationship Beliefs Inventory. Cognitive
Therapy and Research, 26(6), 729-744.

Navara, G. & James, S. (2002). Sojourner adjustment: does missionary status affect acculturation? International
Journal of Intercultural Relations, 26(6), 694-708.

James, S., & Clarke, J. (2001). Surplus suffering: The case of Portuguese immigrant women. Feminist Review, 68,

Wall, J., Needham, T., Browning, D., & James, S. (1999). The ethics of relationality: The moral language of therapists
engaged in marital and family therapy. Family Relations, 48(2), 139-149.

James, S., MacCormack, T., Korol, C., & Lee, C. (1996). Using reflecting teams to train psychology students in
systemic therapy. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 15(4), 46-58.

Hunsley, J., Vito, D., Pinsent, C., James, S., & Lefebvre, M. (1996). Are self-report measures of dyadic relationships
influenced by impression management biases? Journal of Family Psychology, 10, 322-330.

James, S., & Hunsley, J. (1995). The Marital Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scale III: Is the relation with marital
adjustment linear or curvilinear? Journal of Family Psychology, 9, 458-462.

Hunsley, J., Pinsent, C., Lefebvre, M., James-Tanner, S., & Vito, D. (1995). Construct validity of the short forms of the
Dyadic Adjustment Scale. Family Relations, 11, 231-237.

Book Chapters

James, S., & Foster, G. (in press). Horizons of alienation: Culture and hermeneutics in therapy. In C. Lago & R.
Moodley (Eds.), Carl Rogers Counsels a Black Client: Person-Centered Counseling and Psychotherapy with black
and ethnic minority clients. London: PCCS Books.