Theses Doctoral

Cognitive-Behavioral Analysis of Stress and Coping in Parents at Risk of Abusing

Hoekstra, Kathleen O'Connor

Critical incidents of parent coping with their provocative children were observed over eight interviews with 27 at-risk parents whose demographic profiles typically matched that associated with the so-called "feminization of poverty". Following the Lazarus stress-appraisal-to-coping paradigm, relationships between child provocativeness and parent cognitive appraisal of the situation were analyzed, and the relationship of each of these respective social and psychological levels of stress to actual coping behavior studied. The role of anger--an emotion often associated with abuse--was also examined in relation to these stress and coping variables. And, finally, the temporal order of these components of the coping process was analyzed.

Adaptiveness of parent cognition and coping behavior varied with the stressfulness of the situation when this was defined as child provocativeness. There were indications that the positive aspects of child provocativeness, parent cognition, and parent coping behavior went together, with child provocativeness being dependent on parent cognition and behavior rather than the other way around. Thus, it was concluded that abuse should be viewed as a transactional encounter which, while immediately triggered by provocative child behavior, is also dependent on preceding parent behavior, and parent cognitions. The implications were for prevention and intervention efforts which foster more adaptive levels of both cognition and behavior in parents.

While all relationships were not statistically significant, support was found for the primacy of cognition in coping: the temporal order which Lazarus posits, i.e., that cognition precedes emotion which precedes actual coping behavior, was supported.

It was recommended that findings be interpreted cautiously, with consideration of the small size and heavily minority makeup of the sample. It was also recommended that additional sources of stress in the parent-child relationship, and related parent cognitions and coping responses be identified in research. The PCE study design and instruments were seen as appropriate models for such expanded study. It was emphasized that in follow up studies involving similar minority samples, increased consideration be given to measurement and interpretation in light of cultural reality.

The correspondence of cognitive perspectives with social work values, goals, and daily work at the interface of person and environment was noted, and recommendations were made for helping students and practitioners make the needed cognitive shift toward integrating such perspectives in practice.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Whiteman, Martin
Fanshel, David
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 22, 2015