Exploring cognitive-interpersonal pathways to adolescent psychological disturbance

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Yancy, Mary Garwood

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The cognitive-interpersonal conceptualization considers family socialization processes, and the interpersonal schema which they are posited to influence, as integral to understanding psychological maladjustment (Shirk, 1996). Guided by the cognitiveinterpersonal orientation, this research explored the potential for family socialization and interpersonal schema variables to differentiate among adolescents experiencing different forms of psychological distress. Specifically, adolescents’ family socialization experiences and patterns of interpersonal beliefs and expectations (schemata) were explored for their capacity to differentiate among four groups of adolescents; a group experiencing a depressive disorder, a group experiencing an externalizing disorder, a group experiencing co-occurring externalizing and depressive conditions, and a nonclinical comparison group. Further, the potential for interpersonal schema to mediate the relationship between family socialization and psychological functioning was addressed. viii Self-report measures of family functioning and family messages provided information on the child’s family socialization, while an exploratory coding method, the Manual of Interpersonal Schema Analysis (MISA) was developed to derive interpersonal schema from projective narratives. An evaluation of the MISA measure, including validity, reliability and related measurement error issues, was explicated. Results from MANOVAs and discriminant function analyses (DFA) revealed that several family process variables contributed to significant differentiation among adolescents categorized as externalizing, co-occurring externalizing and depressed, and non-clinical. Three “protective” family variables – Social-Recreational Orientation, Family Messages and Communication/Cohesion – were the strongest predictors in classifiying among groups. In the interpersonal schema domain, MISA variables Aggression/Entitlement and Quality of Relational Interaction also contributed to significant group differentiation among externalizing, co-occurring and nonclinical groups. Scores from “pure” depressed adolescents generally followed expected trends, but findings were not significant in differentiating between those described as depressed and those in the externalizing, co-occurring or nonclinical conditions. An exploratory path analysis model failed to support interpersonal schema as a mediator between family processes and adolescent disturbance, possibly due to small sample size. Lastly, limitations regarding the present study were addressed, followed by a discussion of clinical applications and implications for future research.