Research That Matters (January 17 - 20, 2008)

Council Room (Omni Shoreham)

Experiencing Trauma and the Coping Strategies: Validation of the Avoidance Coping Scale

Michael Killian, MSW, Florida State University and Carl F. Siebert, MBA, MS, Florida State University.

Purpose: Avoidance coping strategies include behavioral or cognitive efforts to keep oneself from thinking about a stressful problem or situation. Avoidant coping strategies can also be associated with withdrawal from valued social support resources, particularly following traumatization. Despite recent attention paid by researchers to children and adolescents' use of avoidant coping strategies and disengagement from social support, this area of research lacks specific, psychometrically validated measurement. The purpose of this study was to fill this critical gap by developing and validating the Avoidance Coping Scale (ACS).

Methods: Items for the ACS were developed from a review of 557 qualitative surveys completed by undergraduate students. A 41-item ACS scale was included in a subsequent survey of 356 university students from a public university in the southeastern Unites States. Additional questionnaire items included items assessing for exposure to traumatic events, demographic questions, and the Trauma Resilience Scale (TRS), a validated measure of protective factors associated with adaptation following stressful events. Factor analyses and other psychometric analyses were conducted.

Results: A total of 344 usable surveys were returned. The sample was consistent with the demographics of the undergraduate population at the university - 23.5% ethnic/racial minorities, 70.6% female students, and 90% between the ages of 18-23. A series of exploratory factor analyses were conducted, and principal axis factoring with an orthogonal (Varimax) rotation revealed structurally sound 3-factor solution with 12-items that was consistent with the original theoretical conceptualization and explained 47.6% of the total variance. The resulting factors were Perceived Lack of Support (a=.81, 5 items), Fear of Intrusive Thoughts (a=.75, 3 items), and Cognitive Avoidance Strategies (a=.69, 4 items). Convergent construct validity of the ACS was demonstrated by correlating the subscales of the ACS with those of the TRS; the Perceived Lack of Support and Fear of Intrusive Thoughts ACS subscales were significantly negatively correlated with the TRS subscales, as theorized. Preliminary discriminant validity was demonstrated, as no ACS subscale showed significant differences between current family composition, which family member raised the respondent, or by race/ethnicity. Concurrent criterion known-groups validity was tested by assessing differences in ACS scores between those respondents reporting prior traumatization and those who reported none. Respondents reporting exposures to specific traumatic experiences and multiple traumatic experiences scored significantly higher on Perceived Lack of Support or Fear of Intrusive Thoughts subscale scores. Face/content validity was supported by review of substantive experts at all stages of the measure's development.

Implications: The results from the study provide initial evidence for the reliability and validity of the ACS and support the need for future research with clinical samples. The assessment and identification of these coping strategies is critical to research and clinical work with traumatized children, as social support is arguably the single most important coping resource for a child or adolescent following exposure to a potentially traumatic experience.