School of Social and Political Science

Sarah Golightley

Job Title

PhD Student

Research interests


PhD- Troubling the Troubled Teen Industry: Therapeutic Boarding Schools in the USA

My PhD focuses on the experiences, perspectives, and narratives 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 is based on questionnaires and in-depth interviews with former therapeutic boarding school students. My work comes from a survivor-researcher and Mad Studies perspective that critiques the pathologisation of youth deviance. 

PhD supervisors
Dr Autumn Roesch-Marsh and Dr Sumeet Jain

The PhD research has been covered in several publications
Huffington Post CanadaMad in America, The ConversationPublic Health Post


Peer reviewed publications

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.

Magazine/newspaper articles

Golightley, S. (2016) 'Disabling Madness: Disrupting the mind-body divide', Asylum Magazine: The Magazine for a Democratic Psychiatry, Special Issue: Mad Studies Comes of Age (Part 1), 23(4), PCCS Books, pp. 10-11.

Golightley, S. (2014) 'Demand homes not jails: queer homelessness is being criminalized', openDemocracy, 19 March.

Golightley, S. (2014) 'Why Campaign for LGBTQ Divorce?', The Occupied Times of London (now called Base), 25 March.

Creative writing/poetry

Golightley, S. (2017) 'dlrow' & 'CV Template, Disability 2.0', in Alland, S., Barokka, K. & Sluman, D. (eds.) Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back. Rugby, UK: Nine Arches Press, pp. 77-81.


Mad Studies

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 program (MSc Mad Studies). 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). I have co-lectured on the following topics: 'Epistemology- Ways of Knowing', 'Intersectionality', 'Activism', 'Disabled People's Movements' and 'Research'.

Select guest lectures/seminars

February 2023- 'Disability and Feminism in a Global Context', for the course 'Gender, Marginality and Social Change'. Undergraduate course, University of Edinburgh.

January 2023- ‘Mad Studies and Service User / Survivor Led Research', for the course ‘Introduction to Disability Studies’. Undergraduate course, University of Edinburgh.

December 2022- 'Mad Studies and Epistemic Injustice', for the course 'Mental Distress: Critical Perspectives'. Advanced Social Work PgCert, University of Edinburgh.

November 2022- 'Social Work with LGBTQ+ People', for the course 'Social Work in Communities'. Postgraduate course, University of Edinburgh

September 2022- 'Intersectionality', for the course 'Working with Self and Others'. UG & PG course, University of Edinburgh.

October 2020- 'Facing the Barriers: LGBTQI+ People's Access to Social Care Services', for the course 'Social Work in Communities'. UG & PG course, University of Edinburgh.

February 2019- 'Disability, Mental Health and LGBT+ People', for the course 'Health, Ethics and Society'. Undergraduate MBChB medical course, University of Edinburgh.


Spring 2019 & Spring 2020- Creative Social Work and the Arts
Spring 2018- From Research into Practice: Landmarks in Social Work Research

Select conference presentations and panels

'Too Bad to Be True: the troubled teen industry and the lived experience expert as captor’, presentation, Too Mad to Be True II. Ghent, Belgium, May 2023, Philosophy & Psychiatry.

''Conversion Therapy Lite': LGBTQ+ Youth and Therapeutic Boarding Schools in the USA', Sexuality and Social Work Conference. Mumbai, India, November 2020, Tata Institute of Social Science.

'Ethics of Patient Inclusion' Roundtable Discussion, Disordering Social Inclusion: Ethics, Critiques, Collaborations, Futurities. Toronto, Canada, 13 November 2019, Joint Centre for Bioethics and Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.

‘Ableism and Social Work Education in England and Scotland’, Towards Epistemic Alliances. Edinburgh, UK, 2 July 2019, University of Edinburgh.

'Doing Intersectionality in Social Research' Roundtable Discussion, New Directions: Storying Sociology. Edinburgh, UK, 19 April 2019, University of Edinburgh.

‘Ableism in the Curriculum’ Roundtable Discussion, Critical Interventions in Higher Education Series. London, UK, 16 February 2018, University of Westminster.

 'Disabling Madness: Disrupting Mind-Body Dichotomies', Disability Studies Conference. Lancaster, UK, 8 September 2016, University of Lancaster.

'Transforming Survival - Transgender People’s Access to Domestic Violence Refuges', Transgender Europe Conference. Budapest, Hungary, 3 May 2014, TGEU.


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


2016- 2022 Economic Social Research Council Studentship, Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences

Professional registration

Social Worker, Scottish Social Services Council

Additional research and training

2019- International Visiting Research Traineeship based in Critical Disability Studies, Department of Graduate Studies at York University, Toronto, Canada. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Social Workers' Educational Trust.

2017- 2021- Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives: Questions of Identity, Pedagogy and Violence in India and the UK -- a collaboration of feminist academics from the University of Edinburgh and Ambedkar University Delhi. Funded by the UK-India Educational Research Initiative.

Academic profiles

Google Scholar

* Please note that I am currently a PhD student and I am NOT able to supervise other PhD students.


Works within