School of Social and Political Science

Sarah Golightley

Job Title

Teaching Fellow

Research interests


My research and teaching focus on critical approaches to understanding mental health, disability studies, and feminist research methods. For my doctorate, I researched institutional violence and the pathologisation of youth in the USA 'troubled teen industry'. I remain active in research and awareness raising on this topic. As a Teaching Fellow, I was the autumn semester course organiser for Human Rights and Social Justice and co-organiser of Working with Self and Others. I was also involved in establishing the Mad Studies MSc at Queen Margaret University. Before moving into academia, I was a specialist social worker who supported LGBTQ+ victims/survivors of domestic abuse and LGBTQ+ homeless youth.

Please note from January 2024, I will be a Social Work Lecturer at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.


Golightley, S. (2023) ‘I’m Gay! I'm Gay! I'm Gay! I'm a Homosexual!’: Overt and Covert Conversion Therapy Practices in Therapeutic Boarding Schools. British Journal of Social Work 53(3): 1426-1444.

Golightley, S. (2020) Troubling the ‘troubled teen’ industry: Adult reflections on youth experiences of therapeutic boarding schools. Global Studies of Childhood 10(1): 53-63.

Golightley, S. (2020) ‘Ableism and Social Work Education in England and Scotland’, in Mackay, F., Menon, K., Govinda, R., and Sen, R. (eds.) Doing Feminisms in the Academy: Identity, Institutional Pedagogy and Critical Classrooms in India and the UK. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press / New Delhi, India: Zubaan, pp. 339-348.

Golightley, S. (2019) It’s Maddening: Re-Conceptualizing Embodiments of Mental and Physical Distress. Journal of Ethics in Mental Health 10: 1-11.

Tosh, J. and Golightley, S. (2016) 'The Caring Professions, Not So Caring?: An Analysis of Bullying and Emotional Distress in the Academy', in Burstow, B. (eds.) Psychiatry Interrogated: An Institutional Ethnography. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 143-160.

Doctoral research

Troubling the 'troubled teen' industry: Institutional violence, epistemic injustice, and psychiatrised youth

My doctoral research focused on the experiences of former therapeutic boarding school students. Therapeutic boarding schools in the USA are private residential facilities that seek to reform teenagers who have been labelled with mental health and/or substance misuse problems. Therapeutic boarding schools are part of a broader so-called 'troubled teen industry'. The research was based on questionnaires and in-depth interviews with former therapeutic boarding school students. My work was grounded in a survivor-researcher and Mad Studies perspective that critiqued institutional violence and the pathologisation of youth deviance. The PhD was based at the University of Edinburgh, supervised by Dr Autumn Roesch-Marsh and Dr Sumeet Jain. The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Press coverage:
Huffington Post CanadaMad in America, The ConversationPublic Health Post

Teaching background

Course Organiser

At Edinburgh, I have been the course organiser for Human Rights and Social Justice: Social Work and the Law and the co-organiser of the UG & PG course Working with Self and Others: Skills, Theories and Methods.


I lecture on a range of topics, including: 'Disability and Feminism in a Global Context', 'Mad Studies and Service User / Survivor Led Research', 'Mad Studies and Epistemic Injustice', 'Social Work with LGBTQ+ People', 'Intersectionality', 'Feminist Research Methods', and 'Trauma-Informed Practice'.

Mad Studies MSc

2021-2022 I was a Mad Studies Collective Advocacy Worker for CAPS Independent Advocacy and I worked in partnership with Queen Margaret University Edinburgh to help design and deliver the world’s first Mad Studies degree programme. Mad Studies is an emerging field of study that centres the scholarship, activism, and cultures of 'Mad' people, psychiatric survivors, and those with lived experience of mental distress. 'Mad' is a radical reclamation of the term as a political identity and pride movement (Mad Pride). 


2023- PhD Social Work, University of Edinburgh
2017- MScR Social Work with Distinction, University of Edinburgh
2013- MA Social Work with Distinction, University of Sussex
2009- BA Sociology (Minor Psychology)- McGill University

Academic profiles

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