Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

15610 The Impact of Peer Death On Adolescent Girls: An Efficacy Study of the Adolescent Grief and Loss Group

Friday, January 13, 2012: 2:30 PM
Burnham (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Pamela A. Malone, PhD, LCSW, Adjunct Faculty and Practitioner, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Background and Purpose Adolescent girls (23%) are more likely than boys (19%) to experience peer death. Girls tend to grieve longer and react more strongly to loss than boys, typically expressing their grief through various physical, emotional, social, and cognitive responses. Girls become emotionally involved in the lives of a wider range or network of people and their connections with others is a central organizing feature in their psychological make-up. Thus, each of the more than 13,800 deaths of adolescent deaths annually potentially has an unprecedented impact on adolescent girls.

The purpose of this research study was to develop, deliver, and evaluate the effectiveness of the Adolescent Grief and Loss (AGL) group which was designed to reduce grief responses, and to foster mutual support and connection to others via various tasks associated with each group session.

Methods A mixed methods design was utilized, integrating both quantitative and qualitative research designs. The quantitative component of this study employed a non-experimental simple time-series design, using multiple pre- and post-test measures. The qualitative component based on a phenomenological analysis of adolescent grief and loss responses, included open-ended questions developed to capture each adolescent girl's individual experience of peer death.

The 6-week AGL group was conducted in 4 high schools. A total of 20 self-selected adolescent girls participated in and completed the AGL group. The quantitative component utilized the Lost Response List (LRL), a standardized self-report scale developed to measure grief responses in adolescent girls who read at the 5th grade level. Pre-test measures occurred two weeks prior to group participation and then at the beginning of the first AGL group. Post-test measures occurred at the final AGL group, at 30 days, and again at 60 days following the final AGL group.

Scores on pre-tests were analyzed using ANOVA for equivalency between the 4 AGL groups. Scores on post-tests were analyzed using MANOVA to determine significant change on each dependent variable of physical, emotional, social, and cognitive responses to grief.

Results Quantitative data analysis evidenced that participation in the AGL group resulted in statistically significant reductions in each participant's emotional, social, and cognitive grief responses at the final group post-test as well as at 30 and 60 days after the final group. Statistical significance was found in physical grief responses at the final group post-test and 60 days after the final group.

Qualitative data analysis yielded 6 overarching first-level themes of the experience of peer death: the story, physical reactions, emotional reactions, social reactions, cognitive reactions, and group experience. Second-level themes emerged from each of these.

Conclusion and Implications This research provides an empirically-supported group intervention that reduces physical, social, emotional, and cognitive grief responses as experienced by adolescent girls impacted by peer death. This group model is a valuable contribution to social workers who work with adolescent girls who are struggling with grief and loss, particularly those girls who are at risk for decreased school performance, substance use and abuse, somatic complaints, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

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