Thursday, October 21, 2010

Research Summary: The Coping Window: A contextual understanding of the methods women use to cope with battering

Paige Hall Smith (UNCG Center for Women’s Health and Wellness), Christine E. Murray (UNCG Department of Counseling and Educational Development, Ann L. Coker (University of Kentucky)

Violence and Victims, February 2010


What does it mean to “cope” with being a victim of battering? Can any coping strategy victims use be considered adaptive if it makes it more likely for them to stay in the abusive relationship?

This qualitative study involved interviewing women in battered women’s shelters in order to understand how these women cope with the battering-related stressors they face.

Who were the participants, and what were they asked to do?

Ten first-time residents of three North Carolina battered women’s shelters were interviewed to learn about the coping strategies they used in response to abuse. The researchers used qualitative data analysis procedures to identify themes in participants’ responses.

Major findings:

The 19 identified coping strategies were categorized based on whether they focused on managing emotions or solving problems and whether they engaged intrapersonal or interpersonal resources. An example of a coping strategy from each category is as follows:

  • Emotion-focused/Intrapersonal: Keeping hope
  • Emotion-focused/Interpersonal: Family support
  • Problem-focused/Intrapersonal: Active planning
  • Problem-focused/Interpersonal: Formal help-seeking

The researchers developed a conceptual framework that involved the image of a window, in which these categories were surrounded by a frame of the context. Some contextual influences included the perceived threat of harm, the perception that there are alternatives to the abusive relationship, and beliefs the women hold about relationship commitment.

Major caveats:

As a qualitative study with a small sample of mostly African American participants drawn from one geographic region, the findings may not be applicable to other populations. In addition, because all participants were residents of battered women’s shelters, their responses may differ from those of battering victims who do not seek shelter services.

What does this research mean for counseling practice?

Counselors should assess for a variety of coping strategies when working with clients who have been victims of battering.

The relative value of coping strategies used in response to battering must be considered in light of numerous contextual factors, particularly related to victims’ safety.

According to the authors, “Coping strategies can serve both a protective and a risk-engendering function for these women, and often the same strategy may serve both functions depending on whether a short- or long-term view is taken” (p. 27). As such, counselors can work with their clients to evaluate the extent to which the coping strategies they are using are helping them to meet their short- and long-term goals.

Welcome to the Counseling Research-Practice Blog!

Whether counseling is an art or science – or a combination of both –has has long been debated within the profession. Clearly, research does not have all the answers as to how best to work with all clients in all types of settings, and the value of strong clinical judgment cannot be understated. Nevertheless, research findings can serve as a valuable resource for counselors to inform and improve their work. For example, research findings can:
· Help counselors select the most effective approaches
· Identify relevant aspects to assess or conceptualize clients
· Provide information to improve the effectiveness of treatment strategies
· Help counselors understand the characteristics of client populations
· Contribute to advances in the counseling profession
· Identify time- and cost-effective counseling strategies
· Highlight trends in the practice of counseling or within specific client populations
However, counselors should not blindly accept researchers’ conclusions and haphazardly apply them to their work. Counselors have a professional responsibility (and an ethical obligation; for example, see Standard C.2.f in the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics) to be informed, critical consumers of counseling research. Therefore, when reading about the research discussed in the entries on this blog, counselors are encouraged to take the following cautions into consideration:
· All research studies have limitations, and these limitations must be considered when interpreting and applying study findings. In our discussions of research studies, we will highlight some of the major “caveats” or limitations that impact the degree that a study can be applied to practice.
· Remember that research can be useful for identifying population trends and general themes and patterns within groups, which may not apply to all members of that group. Counselors must bear in mind that every client is unique, and so these trends, themes, and patterns will vary in the extent to which they apply to individual clients.
· Just as clients are unique, so are the settings in which counselors work. Findings that apply in one setting may not be appropriate for the unique geographic, cultural, and organizational influences of other settings. So, counselors should consider these contextual factors in determining whether and how to implement research findings in the settings in which they work.
This blog was started as an initiative of the Research-Practice Initiative in the Department of Counseling and Educational Development (CED) at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). The main goal of this blog is to provide descriptions of recent counseling research in ways that make practice-relevant research findings accessible to practitioners. We will cover many facets of counseling practice—including clinical supervision, counselor education, school counseling, college counseling, mental health counseling, and couple and family counseling.
This blog will highlight the work of CED researchers, including faculty members and doctoral students, as well as research done by scholars at other institutions. We will highlight research that is relevant to a variety of areas of counseling practice and translate that research into implications for counseling practice.
Finally, we offer some additional practical “tips” for how to get the most out of using this blog.
First, the information provided on this blog will only be brief synopses of the research we discuss. Therefore, we won’t provide full details on each study, such as the study’s grounding in the existing literature, the methodologies used, the findings, and the implications for clinical practice. Furthermore, the information we highlight may not be the information that others would focus on, so we encourage readers to seek out the full-text of articles that are most relevant to them.
Second, related to the first tip, we know that accessing the full-texts of journal articles may not be easy for some practicing counselors, especially if they are not affiliated with university libraries with extensive databases. Although we cannot provide full-text articles to readers, we do offer the following strategies that practitioners may be able to use to gain access to full-text research articles:
· Check with the libraries of the colleges/universities you attended to see if they have a way for alumni to gain access to their collections.
· Local public libraries can be another great resource for locating research-based information. Even if your local library does not subscribe to a particular journal, you may be able to access articles through their Interlibrary Loan programs.
· Maintain membership in professional organizations that publish peer-reviewed journals. For example, members of the American Counseling Association receive a subscription to the Journal of Counseling and Development with their membership fees.
Finally, we welcome feedback and discussion through this blog. We hope that it will stimulate respectful professional dialogue and an exchange of ideas about counseling research and its relevance to practice. Please note that discussions will be monitored, and inappropriate content will be removed. Comments may be left in the appropriate sections of this blog, and readers also may contact the members of the CED Research-Practice Initiative Steering Committee with additional feedback and suggestions. Committee members are as follows: