Year

2011

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Psychology

Abstract

This thesis examined how adolescents with a parent with cancer coped with the experience. The focus of much of the general developmental literature was found to be the problems faced by adolescents. Hence, when considering how children deal with adverse circumstances such as parental cancer, there was an assumption they would be unable to cope. Despite this assumption the literature can be read as showing that adolescents can, and indeed do, cope with, and even attribute benefits to, adverse events. However, while the literature does shed some light on adolescents' experiences, it is so disparate in both its methods and theoretical approaches that the reader is left without a clear understanding of what the findings mean. George Kelly's Personal Construct Psychology (PCP) was used as the theoretical framework to unify the findings. The case is made that PCP is abstract enough to reconcile such seemingly unrelated or contradictory findings and assist us to understand how adolescents come to act as they do.

Two studies were conducted using different interview approaches. The first applied a longitudinal, semi-structured interview design, with four adolescent boys (13-17 yrs) on four occasions over a year. The second study was cross-sectional and combined a slightly modified version of the questions used in the first study along with Ravenette's (1999) Who Are You? (WAY?) Technique, a “one-off” interview approach based on PCP principles. Participants were three males and four females who were adolescents at the time of their parent's diagnosis (13-19 yrs).

In both studies all participants' day-to-day lives could be interpreted as having been somewhat disrupted. However, for all but two from the second study the disruption was concentrated in the first three to six months post diagnosis and were not perceived to have resulted in fundamental changes to their lives. The different experiences of these two participants could result from either a lack of stability in family life due to preexisting factors, or a fundamental misunderstanding between the participant and their ill parent. The latter would leave both participants anxious, unable to anticipate important aspects of life. Some participants from both studies came to re-construe aspect/s of their lives, and most reported benefits from the situation, a finding consistent with the broader literature on the topic and discussed in relation to PCP's notion of constructive alternativism.

The extent to which participants were able to cope was examined via Kelly's (1955) Experience Cycle (EC). Those who coped the best with their parent's diagnosis were able to progress through the EC's five stages of anticipation, investment, encounter, confirmation and/or disconfirmation, and constructive revision. Those who coped less well were unable to complete one or more of these stages.

Ravenette's (1999) WAY? Technique resulted in both more information, and information of greater depth and subtlety, than the traditional semi-structured interview questions used in the first study. However as an approach it had some limitations which are described. Two new ways of displaying the qualitative data generated from both the semi-structured interviews and Ravenette's WAY? Technique were detailed and the thesis concluded with suggestions for further research.

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