ThesisPDF Available

Create to Thrive During Family Divide: Construction of an Art Therapy Intervention Program for Children Impacted by Divorce



This theoretical construction research paper explored the literature on the effects of parental divorce on children. A variety of disciplines were examined to establish a model of normative experiences that could provide a foundation for the development of an art therapy program to support children during this transition. The literature from a variety of disciplines was summarized to highlight the challenges experienced by children of divorced parents. A review of the field of art therapy identified art therapy approaches that could play a supportive role to mitigate challenges experienced by this population. Art therapy approaches used to treat trauma, anxiety, anger management, depression and, where possible, studies specific to children, were examined to determine appropriate and effective art therapy tools and/or directives applicable to group interventions. As a result, 10-week art therapy intervention program to be conducted in schools was designed to foster expression and improved resilience in children from families who have experienced divorce.
STUDENT'S NAME: Claire Nichols!
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the Graduate Diploma in Art Therapy
Toronto Art Therapy Institute
8 Prince Arthur Avenue, 2nd Floor
Toronto, Ontario
M5R 1A9
Title of Thesis: Create to Thrive During Family Divide: Construction of an Art Therapy
Intervention Program for Children Impacted by Divorce.
Accepted without revision Signature:___________________________
Name: ____Beth Merriam______________
Thesis Advisor
Date: ___June 28, 2018________________
Signature: ___________________________
Name: _______________________________
Thesis Reader
Date: ________________________________
Elsha Leventis
September 16, 2018
Create to Thrive During Family Divide:
Construction of an Art Therapy Intervention Program for Children Impacted by Divorce
Claire Nicholls
A thesis submitted in partial conformity with the
requirements for the graduate level Diploma from the
Toronto Art Therapy Institute
Copyright © 2018, Claire Nicholls
This theoretical construction research paper explored the literature on the effects of
parental divorce on children. A variety of disciplines were examined to establish a model of
normative experiences that could provide a foundation for the development of an art therapy
program to support children during this transition. The literature from a variety of disciplines
was summarized to highlight the challenges experienced by children of divorced parents. A
review of the field of art therapy identified art therapy approaches that could play a supportive
role to mitigate challenges experienced by this population. Art therapy approaches used to treat
trauma, anxiety, anger management, depression and, where possible, studies specific to children,
were examined to determine appropriate and effective art therapy tools and/or directives
applicable to group interventions. As a result, 10-week art therapy intervention program to be
conducted in schools was designed to foster expression and improved resilience in children from
families who have experienced divorce.
Keywords: children, art therapy, intervention, group art therapy, child/ren of divorce, parental
separation, trauma, coping after divorce, art therapy program, theoretical constructive
research, resilience, divorce support, families in transition, divorce intervention, divorce
adaptation programs children of divorce, competence, parental divorce, relatedness,
To my fellow classmates, friends and family, Many Thanks for your support!
I am deeply grateful to have had the support of the faculty and my classmates. In
particular, Laura Simmons, Katie Stewart and Lindsay Kujack provided ongoing encouragement
and comic relief through FaceTime and in-person meetings in our thesis peer support group.
I am grateful to my siblings, my children, Olivia and Sasha, and to my mother, Martie,
who have been my unwavering cheerleaders. I am also grateful to my friends, who have
supported me along the way, especially Brenda Spitzer and Leanne Anderson for their wisdom
and guidance.
Thanks for all your encouragement!
Table of Contents
Abstract ........................................................................................................................................... ii
Acknowledgements ........................................................................................................................ iii
List of Tables ................................................................................................................................. vi
Chapter 1 - Introduction .................................................................................................................. 1
Research Question ...................................................................................................................... 3
Rationale ..................................................................................................................................... 3
Chapter 2 - Methodology ................................................................................................................ 7
Choosing Construction Research Methodology ......................................................................... 7
Data Collection ....................................................................................................................... 7
Data Analysis .......................................................................................................................... 8
Chapter 3 - Literature Review......................................................................................................... 9
Children of Divorce Overview ................................................................................................... 9
Resilience, Risk and Protective Factors ................................................................................ 14
Protective and Vulnerability Factors..................................................................................... 16
Individual Factors ................................................................................................................. 17
External Factors .................................................................................................................... 20
Promoting Resiliency ............................................................................................................ 27
Relevant Theories of Child Development and Parental Attachment ........................................ 29
Attachment Theory (Bowlby) ............................................................................................... 29
Psychosocial Development Stage Theory (Erikson) ............................................................. 31
Cognitive Development (Piaget) ........................................................................................... 32
Archetypes (Jung) ................................................................................................................. 33
Superhero Therapy (Rubin) .................................................................................................. 34
Six Tasks for Children to Overcome Challenges of Parental Divorce (Wallerstein) ........... 37
Current Treatment Models and Programs ................................................................................. 38
Types of Support Groups for Children of Divorce ................................................................... 39
Lay- and Peer-Based Support Groups ................................................................................... 39
Educational and Information Support ................................................................................... 40
Therapeutic and Emotional Support ..................................................................................... 40
Therapy-Based or Clinical Support....................................................................................... 40
Online Support Groups ......................................................................................................... 41
Intervention Programs for Children in Canada ......................................................................... 42
Families in Transition (FIT) .................................................................................................. 42
Jewish Family and Child Services (JFCS) ............................................................................ 43
Intervention Programs for Children in the U.S. ........................................................................ 44
Art Therapy ............................................................................................................................... 48
Art Therapy: Historical Overview ........................................................................................ 48
Psychoanalytical-Based Art Therapy: Jungian (Jung) .......................................................... 49
Humanistic-Based Art Therapy ............................................................................................ 49
Client-Centred (Rogers) ........................................................................................................ 50
Gestalt (Rhyne) ..................................................................................................................... 50
Phenomenological (Betensky and Carpendale) .................................................................... 51
Psychoeducational-Based Art Therapy ................................................................................. 51
Art Therapy Efficacy and Rationale ..................................................................................... 52
School-Based Group Model...................................................................................................... 54
Summary of Findings................................................................................................................ 55
Theoretical Framework ............................................................................................................. 56
Evidence-Based Protocols to Build Efficacy ........................................................................ 63
Chapter 4 - Intervention ................................................................................................................ 64
Construction .............................................................................................................................. 64
Week 1: Getting to Know Each Other: Define the Group .................................................... 65
Week 2: Understanding Changes in the Family.................................................................... 67
Week 3: Expressing Feelings Resulting from Changes in the Family .................................. 69
Week 4: Coping with Changes: Instilling Hope ................................................................... 69
Week 5: Define Superhero Personal Strengths ..................................................................... 71
Week 6: Develop Coping Skills to Deal with Family Changes ............................................ 72
Week 7: Understanding Anger and Learning How to Deal with Anger ............................... 73
Week 8: Safe Haven .............................................................................................................. 75
Week 9: Hope and Future Goals ........................................................................................... 77
Week 10: Saying Goodbye ................................................................................................... 78
Discussion ................................................................................................................................. 79
Suggestions for Future Research .............................................................................................. 80
Conclusion ................................................................................................................................ 81
References ..................................................................................................................................... 83
List of Tables
Table 1: How CoD-CoD Addresses the Four Protective Factors………….…………….......47
Chapter 1 - Introduction
In this theoretical construction research paper the literature and research from multiple
disciplines were examined regarding the impacts of parental separation on children. The
literature review findings were utilized to inform the construction of an art therapy intervention
program to support children experiencing challenges as a result of parental separation and/or
divorce. The program model was created based on an analysis of evidence-based research from
the fields of psychology, social work, family therapy and education. The goal of this construction
research paper is to review the theory, research, and literature about children of divorce to
determine common experiences to support the development of an art therapy program designed
to improve resiliency, reduce potential risk factors and improve outcomes. Specific risks
identified for children following the divorce of their parents have been shown to span a variety of
areas encompassing cognitive, behavioural, developmental, social and academic with the effects
of divorce on children sometimes extending into adulthood (Uphold-Carrier & Utz, 2012). Holly
Uphold-Carrier and Rebecca Utz (2012) performed a quantitative analysis to document the long-
term effects of parental divorce on the child’s depressive affect and familial solidarity. Their
findings demonstrated children of divorce were at greater risk for depression as adults.
More important, it highlights some important ways in which the
age at parental divorce affects how children’s feelings, behaviors,
and thoughts interact to create lifelong consequences, such as low
family solidarity and a greater likelihood for depression during
later stages of the adult life course. (p. 263)
Prevention researchers have demonstrated that early interventions can improve a child’s
post-divorce resiliency indicated by improved outcomes following the initial stress of parental
divorce (Pedro-Carroll, 2005). The demonstrated ability of art therapy to assist children to
externalize and express their thoughts and feelings in a non-threatening and nonverbal manner,
provides the rationale for an art therapy-based early intervention program for children whose
parents have divorced.
While most children appear to get through parental separation without long-term
challenges, other children struggle (Amato, 2005). Even though there is individual variability in
the range of emotions and anxiety resulting from a significant life change such as divorce, many
experts concur that the majority of children learn to use internal and external supports to adjust to
their new circumstances (Tein, 2013). In their seminal longitudinal study examining children
impacted by divorce, Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) noted that early stage, post-divorce parents
were often too grief-stricken themselves to be able to support children through the difficulties
associated with divorce. This scenario creates an additional challenge for children, whose
primary caregivers’ childrearing capabilities are reduced, a phenomenon the authors referred to
as “diminished parenting.”
Parental divorce affects a large number of children in Canada. A 2011 Statistics Canada
survey found that approximately five million Canadians had separated or divorced within the
previous 20 years. Of these, 24% had at least one child aged 18 years or younger (Statistics
Canada, 2011). The latest estimates from Statistics Canada (2016) are that 33% of children live
with a single or step-parent. The same survey found that 16% of parents did not live with a
partner (whether married or common-law), with 46% of single-parent homes having children
under 14 years of age. These statistics highlight that divorce is a common phenomenon affecting
many Canadian households and respective children.
There is an extensive body of research that identifies divorce as having a negative impact
on children’s social and academic performance with a marked period of adjustment seen in the
first two years following parental separation (Amato, 2001; Arkes, 2015; Tein, 2013; Wallerstein
& Kelly, 1980). During this period children are more likely to “suffer from depression, anxiety,
and other emotional disorders, exhibit behavioural problems including hyperactivity,
aggressiveness, fighting, and hostility; become young offenders, experience academic struggles,
experience more relationship problems, in part due to their behavioural problems” (Ambert,
2009, p. 18).
During the early stages of separation, as family care and living arrangements are
dramatically changing, children have been shown to experience considerable distress (Amato,
2000). Increased mental health problems for children have been correlated with higher levels of
post-divorce stressors such as protracted conflict, parental instability, changes in family
relationships, loss of time with parents, relocation, and economic decline (Pedro-Carroll, 2005).
Given the high prevalence of divorce in Canada, the corresponding incidence of children being
impacted by divorce, and the negative effects that divorce has been shown to have on children’s
functioning and well-being, it is clear that there is a need to identify and promote interventions
that mitigate the negative effects of divorce on children.
Research Question
The following question was posed for this research paper: How can theory and research
help to inform the creation of an art therapy-based group program designed as an intervention to
improve resiliency in children as they adjust to the familial changes resulting from parental
divorce or separation?
As was stated in the introduction, children whose parents are separating or divorcing
experience myriad stressors and losses that reduce many aspects of their functioning and sense of
security. Given that researchers have shown that many children are capable of recovering from
these effects, it is hypothesized that interventions specifically targeted to children in distress
could be effective as a preventative intervention. Given art therapy’s unique characteristics and
accessibility for a wide range of individuals, it is hypothesized that art therapy interventions
would be well suited to helping distressed children, particularly in assisting them to find
appropriate ways to express uncomfortable feelings and thoughts during the disruption and loss
caused by divorce.
There is strong support for child-focused intervention programs for children of divorced
parents among service providers, parents, and many experts. These stakeholders have argued that
it may be more effective to focus on children’s responses to separation and divorce, given the
difficulty of influencing parents’ attitudes and behaviours, and have stated that even small
changes in the child’s responses have the potential to facilitate and encourage the parents’
adjustment (O'Connor, 2004).
When determining what would be an appropriate and effective intervention for children
experiencing parental divorce, it is important to examine which approaches children with distress
have found to be helpful. Art therapy as an intervention has been found to benefit children who
have experienced a wide range of losses and stressors. To illustrate, a study by Ball (2002)
supported the use of art therapy and found it effective in assisting emotionally disturbed young
children with attachment disorder. The benefit of art therapy has also been examined with a
focus on its impact on children’s stress and grief responses. A qualitative study of 10-year-olds
with family issues, grief, and various stressors who participated in an art therapy group found
that at one-year post-treatment follow-up, a focus group interview revealed that “all children
reported that art therapy specifically helped them to better cope with feelings” (Slayton, 2010, p.
110). According to Carr and Vandiver (2003), who used quantitative and qualitative methodolgy
to investigate art therapy’s effectiveness in the treatment of behavioural, conduct and academic
Children, who are exposed to stressful events such as poverty,
parental alcoholism, familial separation, abuse, and maltreatment,
need to develop resilient attributes. Self-efficacy, empathy,
competency, independent thinking, and autonomy are resilient
attributes that can be acquired through the act of artmaking. (p.
In a similar study Case and Dalley (2005) found that engaging in art process provided
the possibility of a more spontaneous, non-verbal means of communication through which
children expressed difficulties more readily: “With the presence of the therapist who is seen to be
a consistent, caring figure, the child can begin to unravel the present and past difficulties that
have remained pent up until then” (p. 8). Ball’s (2002) qualitative outcome study concluded that
“interactions between the art therapist, the children and their art making revealed increases in the
children’s ability to symbolise their experiences through images and words, to regulate their
emotions and behaviour, and to reflect about themselves” (cited in Gilroy, Kindle Location
3376). Saunders and Saunders (2000) completed a long-term study using art therapy with a
relatively large sample of children and adolescents at risk for long-term behavioural problems.
The study findings revealed that the art therapy participants demonstrated a significant decrease
in negative behaviours and an increase in overall success.
Given that the practice of creating art is an enjoyable and natural experience for children
and has been found to be an effective intervention to mitigate a variety of stressors, it would
follow that art therapy could assist children who have experienced parental divorce to uncover
feelings and develop an understanding of the changes in their family. It is hypothesized that
findings on the efficacy of art therapy to reduce children’s stress and distress will hold true for
individuals participating in an art therapy group for children of divorce.
Different factors appear to impact the degree to which children adapt following parental
divorce. What appears to hold the greatest influence on how a child adapts during this familial
transition is the individual child’s and family’s strengths and overall ability to cope (Pedro-
Carroll, 2005). This overall ability to cope is referred to in the literature and in this paper as
resiliency, which describes a person’s ability to overcome adversity in the presence of stressors
predicted to result in negative outcomes (Masten & Coatsworth, 1998). According to Schaan and
Vögele’s (2016) study, “Participants with divorced parents had significant lower resilience (M =
5.08, SD = 0.94) compared with those participants who did not experience the divorce of their
parents” (p. 1268). A variety of factors within the individual and family prior to a parental
separation have been shown to play a role in outcomes for children. Protective factors provide
support and have been identified at the individual, family, school, and community level (Christle,
Harley, Nelson, & Jones, 2007).
The evidence that the strengths and capabilities of individuals and families play a role in
the outcomes for children of divorce highlights the need for interventions that provide emotional
support and a psychoeducational component to increase coping and communication skills to
improve outcomes for families.
Chapter 2 - Methodology
Choosing Construction Research Methodology
This study used a construction methodology to investigate how theory and research could
help to inform the creation of an art therapy-based group program designed as an intervention to
improve resiliency in children as they adjust to the familial changes resulting from parental
divorce or separation. Sources for the research included books and journal articles selected
through searches of PsycNET, Taylor & Francis, Researchgate, ScienceDirect and Google
Scholar with a publication range of 2000 to 2018. Database search criteria included keywords
such as divorce*, child*/ren, separation, intervention, prevention, evidence-based, resilience, and
family transitions. These terms were used in various combinations and included overlap with art
therapy*, creative*, and art as therapy. Whenever possible, recent publications (within the past
decade) were utilized. Initial research revealed a gap in services for Canadian children of divorce
when compared to the evidence-based programs found in the United States (O'Connor, 2004).
Data Collection
The construction research model, through analysis of the effectiveness of interventions in
a variety of fields, provided triangulation results to inform the design of an art therapy
intervention to support children of divorce. Aspects of the research explored a comprehensive
analysis and categorization of:
Risk, resilient and protective factors
Research on the effects of divorce on children
Research on child development theories; Bowlby’s attachment theory, Erik Erikson’s
stage theory of development and Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Child Development
Research on Carl Jung and archetypes
Research on Superhero Therapy
Research on children experiencing anxiety, depression and anger management.
Wallerstein’s “Six Tasks”
Research on current interventions offered in Ontario (FIT), (JCFS)
Best practice for intervention programs for children of divorce
Exploration research of efficacy in art therapy with children
Exploration of art therapy techniques
Benefits of group-based model
Benefits of school-based interventions
Data Analysis
For this paper, the data collection involved extensive searches of the literature for
theories and research studies examining children of divorce, past and current approaches to assist
children through this transition, and the variety of disciplines utilized to do so, published
between the years 1966 and 2018 with the majority published after 2005. The data collected were
analyzed through a humanistic lens focusing on self-growth and actualization. A humanistic
approach was utilized because of its compatibility with the underlying tenets of the concept of
resilience (Condly, 2006). Specifically, the humanistic approach focuses on the internal strength
and “goodness” of children as opposed to making conclusions that are problem-based,
pathologizing or that highlight deficits (Schneider, Pierson & Bugental 2015). Because divorce
affects children differently depending on their developmental level (Bowden & Greenberg,
2010), the analysis considered theories of child development; Bowlby’s attachment theory, Erik
‘Erikson's stage theory of development and Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Child Development to
identify potential risks for this population.
Chapter 3 - Literature Review
Children of Divorce Overview
There is significant and well-established evidence showing that divorce has a negative
impact on children’s functioning and sense of well-being in several areas (Amato, 2010).
Thomas and Högnäs’s (2015) study, The Effect of Parental Divorce on the Health of Adult
Children, found the greatest negative effects on adult health were experienced by children whose
parents divorced before the age of seven: “This result points to the conceptualization of child
development as a cumulative process where early experiences with the disadvantages associated
with parental divorce bend life course trajectories toward less desirable outcomes” (p. 12).
Studies of children whose parents have divorced have shown that separation and divorce
negatively affect social and academic performance (Arkes, 2015). Brand, Moorez, Song, and Xie
(2017) studied the effects of divorce on children’s education and observed that “divorce is
associated with an 8 percent lower probability of children’s high school completion, a 12 percent
lower probability of college attendance, and an 11 percent lower probability of college
completion” (p. 25). In Arkes’s (2013) study, The Temporal Effects of Parental Divorce on
Youth Substance Use, results indicated the following:
Youth from families experiencing a divorce are already at an
increased risk of engaging in alcohol use at least 2-to-4 years
before the divorce. After the divorce, youth are more likely to
engage in alcohol, marijuana, and other drug use, with the effect
generally persisting as time passes from the divorce. (p. 306)
Experts studying divorce and its impact on families have noted that children of divorce
appear to experience a transition period following a parental separation lasting approximately
two years during which time children are more likely to “suffer from depression, anxiety, and
other emotional disorders, exhibit behavioural problems including hyperactivity, aggressiveness,
fighting, and hostility; become young offenders, have poorer academic achievement, remain in
school for a shorter period of time and experience more relationship problems” (Ambert, 2005,
p. 18). Amato’s (2010) review, Research on Divorce: Continuing Trends and New
Developments, produced findings that support earlier research: “Research continued to show that
children with divorced parents score lower on a variety of emotional, behavioral, social, health,
and academic outcomes” (p. 653). In addition, Amato reported long-term effects including that
as adults, children of divorce obtain less education, demonstrate lower levels of psychological
well-being, report more marital problems, and are at greater risk of divorcing.
Although each child has unique challenges and coping skills, studies have shown that
there are predictable issues that children will face, depending on their particular developmental
stage (Anthony, DiPerna, & Amato, 2014). For the purposes of this paper “the early stages of
parental separation” refers to a period of two years or less post-parental separation. Anger
towards parents, mild depression or sadness at the loss of family stability, and anxiety regarding
life changes have been found to be commonly experienced by children in the early stages of
parental separation (Pedro-Carroll, 2005). These feelings may be expressed in a variety of
healthy and unhealthy ways and are dependent on the age and developmental stage of the
specific child.
Weaver and Schofield (2015) conducted a research study on the impact of divorce on
children and summarized their findings as follows:
We examined children’s internalizing and externalizing behaviour
problems from age 5 to age 15 in relation to whether they had
experienced a parental divorce. Children from divorced families
had more behaviour problems compared with a propensity score-
matched sample of children from intact families according to both
teachers and mothers. They exhibited more internalizing and
externalizing problems at the first assessment after the parents’
separation and at the last available assessment. (p. 39)
Not only did these authors note a variety of negative impacts of divorce on the children,
the study also found that the negative effects of divorce lingered for years after: “As predicted,
children from divorced families had significantly more behavior problems than peers from intact
families, and these problems were evident immediately after the separation and later on, in early
and middle adolescence” (p. 11).
Chang and Kier (2016) in their paper, Divorce in the Canadian Context—Interventions
and Family Processes, provided a review of Canadian studies, examining divorced children and
parents, also found that there were differences in the long-term impacts of divorce on children:
“Like their parents, most children from divorced families are doing as well as their peers from
married families; some, however, perhaps as many as 25%, do have substantial problems that
may be long-lasting” (p. S2). Hyun Sik Kim (2011) in Consequences of Parental Divorce for
Child Development summarized her findings as follows:
(1) Setbacks among children of divorce in math test scores during
and after the experience of parental divorce (i.e., significant
combined effects of the in- and post-divorce effect), (2) a negative
in-divorce effect on interpersonal skills and negative combined
effects during the in- and post-divorce periods, and (3) a
pronounced in-divorce effect on the internalizing behavior
dimension. (p. 506)
Negative effects of divorce on children have also been reported by Tein, Sandler, Braver,
and Wolchik (2013), who identified that:
Two kinds of factors have been shown to predict children’s
problem outcomes after parental divorce: (a) current level of
problems the child is experiencing and (b) divorce-related risk and
protective factors. There is considerable research demonstrating
that behaviour problems at an earlier stage of development predict
elevated problems in subsequent stages. (p. 925)
The discrepancy in these study results has been attributed to pre-separation familial
conflict that is viewed as tainting the before and after separation model, emphasizing that it is the
conflict itself, not the separation that causes the disruption in children’s behaviours (Amato,
2010; Luther, 2003). To account for the discrepancy attributable to research methodology, Arkes
(2015) updated his research, controlling for the extraneous factor by using child fixed effects and
establishing a baseline period of four or more years prior to a family disruption. He summarized
his findings as follows:
There are a few key findings from this study. First, there is
evidence that children are already affected by the disruption
process at least 2-4 years prior to the disruption. Second, in the two
years after the disruption, children have significantly lower reading
scores and worse behavioral problems. Third, the before-after
estimates from prior studies likely understated the immediate
effects. Fourth, most effects are temporary, as the effects appear to
dissipate as time passes from the disruption. The exception is
Reading Comprehension, for which the estimates are fairly large
and escalate as more time passes from the disruption. (p. 12)
Other studies examining the impact of divorce that have controlled for bias using child
fixed effects report findings ranging from moderate to extreme. In 2010 Amato conducted a
study using the fixed effects models and related methods to address bias due to omitted variables
in previous studies. The results of six fixed effects regression analyses demonstrated that
“divorce was associated significantly with declines in reading achievement, math achievement
and self-esteem” (p. 35). The study findings also showed children scoring lower on a variety of
emotional, behavioural, social, health, and academic indicators and as adults, obtaining less
education, having lower levels of psychological well-being, reporting more problems with their
own marriages, being less close to their parents and being at greater risk of experiencing divorce
themselves. Given these findings, it is evident that there is a need to understand the long-term
effects of divorce and draw on studies that control for bias in their research design before
drawing conclusions.
Long-Term Effects
As mentioned, a large body of research has been compiled focusing on the impact of
divorce on children. Researchers Bernardi and Radl (2014) studied the long-term consequences
of divorce on children as it related to educational achievement. Their findings showed that
parental marital breakup was associated with negative long-term consequences for children's
educational attainment: “On average across countries and cohorts, we found a parental breakup
penalty of about seven percentage points for the chances of attaining a university degree” (p.
1670). Long-term negative results were also seen in a longitudinal study of children of divorce
that saw adults whose parents had divorced in childhood having lower incidence of marriage and
of having children, a finding that the authors associated with relatively lower functioning
(Wallerstein & Kelly, 2000). Weaver and Schofield’s (2015) study, Mediation and Moderation
of Divorce Effects on Children’s Behavior Problems, used a quasi-experimental approach.
Analyzed from multiple perspectives, their findings demonstrated significantly more behaviour
problems in children of divorce than in peers from intact families as predicted but found the
effects more persistent and longer lasting: “Problems were evident immediately after the
separation and later on, in early and middle adolescence” (p. 11).
To explain variations seen in children following a parental divorce, Wallerstein and
Lewis (2004) proposed several factors that facilitate recovery after an initial decline following
parental divorce:
The widely accepted premise has been that divorce represents an
acute crisis from which resilient children recover, typically within
a two-year period, and then resume their normal developmental
progress, if three conditions obtain: (a) the parents are able to settle
their differences without fighting; (b) the financial arrangements
are fair; and (c) the child has continued contact with both parents
over the years that follow. (p. 367)
In spite of the abundance of research showing deleterious effects of divorce, prevention
researchers have shown that some children are able to recover, and that interventions can
improve children’s post-divorce resilience indicated by improved outcomes on a variety of
measures (Pedro-Carroll, 2005). To further examine protective factors it is important to draw
upon the research examining resilience in children.
Resilience, Risk and Protective Factors
Resilience is a term adopted from the field of applied sciences, specifically physics and
engineering. The term resilience refers to the physical properties of an object and its ability to
return to its original form after receiving a stress (Condly, 2006). The term began being used in
the Health Sciences in the 1970s to identify characteristics of recovery from a medical trauma or
procedure. In the 1980s the label emerged in the field of psychology as a significant theoretical
and research topic from the studies of children “at-risk” due to parental mental illness, inter-
parental conflict, or poverty (Manyena, 2006). Early research focused on pathological
paradigms and the child’s resulting weaknesses, shortcomings, and dysfunction but moved to a
more inclusive model encompassing cumulative protective factors, which emphasized positive
characteristics, strengths and improved outcomes (Condly, 2006). Hetherington (1998) proposed
five main theoretical perspectives to explain the links between divorce, remarriage and children's
adjustment or resiliency. These perspectives are those emphasizing (a) individual risk and
vulnerability; (b) family composition; (c) stress, including socioeconomic disadvantage; (d)
parental distress; and (e) family process.
Schaan and Vögele (2016) studied psychological factors such as resilience and rejection
sensitivity relative to long-term consequences of parental divorce in young adults; the
researchers “observed higher scores on the childhood trauma scale, increased rejection sensitivity
and reduced resilience in the offspring of divorced parents compared with those of non-divorced
parents” (p. 1269).
Factors impacting children following divorce are similarly described by Tein (2013) who
explained that “two kinds of factors have been shown to predict children’s problem outcomes
after parental divorce: (a) current level of problems the child is experiencing and (b) divorce-
related risk and protective factors” (p. 925).
According to Kelly (2012), there is evidence to suggest that children with close, loving
relationships with both parents have an easier adjustment to parental divorce, which may be
facilitated by maintaining close parental relations through the discord. Conversely, Arkes (2015)
found that parental conflict before parental separation up to two to four years prior disruption
contributed to negative outcomes for children.
According to Boyden and Mann (2005), “These early concepts of risk, resilience, and
protective factors have now come to form the bedrock of research on children who live with
adversity” (p. 6). The authors noted, however that there are problems within the body of
literature, including discrepancies in research due to variations in interpretation and assumptions.
More recently research has incorporated biological components looking at brain activity
in reaction to stressful experiences. Connor and Zhang (2006) identified a variety of
neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, and hormones that work to either promote or undermine
resilience. Parental separation is impacted by several factors that may be protective or increase
risk. Protective and vulnerability factors will be examined in detail in the following section.
Protective and Vulnerability Factors
The outcomes experienced by children following parental divorce fall within a broad
spectrum. In Boyden and Mann’s (2005) study, Children’s Risk, Resilience, and Coping in
Extreme Situations, children demonstrated several negative and positive pre-existing
characteristics at an individual level, in their families, and in their communities which influenced
outcomes during times of acute stress. In Oshio, Taku, Hirano and Saeed’s (2018) study,
Resilience and Big Five Personality Traits: A Meta-Analysis, results demonstrated “overall,
resilience showed the negative correlations with Neuroticism and positive correlations with the
remaining four personality traits, that is, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and
Conscientiousness” (p. 57). Wolchik et al.’s (2013) study found that in addition to these positive
characteristics there are adverse stressors such as economic hardship or level of parental conflict.
The protective and vulnerability factors can be broken into two main categories: Individual
factors (characteristics and qualities of the individual child) and external factors (the system
surrounding the child’s life).
Individual Factors
In a study by Lansford et al. (2006), researchers theorized that the timing of divorce
affects adjustment trajectories in different ways. Amato and Keith (2005) also found that
younger children typically had a more difficult time coping than an older child. A study by
Hetherington (1998) looked at how children were impacted differently depending on their age
and found that children who experienced their parents’ divorce during adolescence were more
affected in domains such as academic achievement, level of independence, and emerging
romantic relationships. The Lansford et al. (2006) results also supported the hypothesis that
timing of parental divorce relative to the age of a child produces different outcomes. They
reported that “parental divorce during elementary school is related to more adverse effects on
internalizing and externalizing problems than is later divorce, whereas later divorce is related to
more adverse effects on grades” (p. 296). Family theorists suggest behavioural changes in
parenting such as declines in support and a reduction in parental monitoring following divorce
may result in children performing less well academically (Lansford, 2006).
Very young children show specific reactions to divorce of their parents relative to those
in older age cohorts. Specifically, infants (0 to 2 years) have been reported as showing little
impact so long as the child’s basic needs are being met (Bowden & Greenberg, 2010).
Preschoolers (2 to 4 years) have been found to be unable to grasp the meaning of divorce (Amato
& Keith, 2005). Heatherington (1998) reported that these children were confused and fearful at
the loss of their parent, tended to blame themselves and regressed developmentally. They were
reported as becoming more aggressive and experienced a greater number of tantrums. This
author summarized that “researchers have found that preschool-age children whose parents
divorce are at greater risk for long-term problems in social and emotional development than are
older children” (p. 171).
Several researchers reported that school-aged children (5 to 8 years old) have limited
knowledge of divorce but understand enough to feel angry, depressed and grief over the loss of
an intact family (Bowden & Greenberg, 2010). Kelly (1988) also found that for children of
divorced parents at this age, reconciliation is an ongoing wish. These children reported
struggling with parental loyalties, blame and alliances, which produced further inner conflict.
Studies have noted that elementary students also struggle after parental divorce.
Specifically, O’Connor (2004) reported that elementary school-age children (9 to 12 years old)
presented as sad or depressed often expressing anger or blame to one or both parents. They were
also reported to take on a parental role to younger siblings and to show behavioural changes as
reported by their teachers.
Bowden and Greenberg, in a 2010 study, reported that adolescents (12 to 16 years old)
were less dependent on the family following divorce, noting that as would be expected at this
developmental stage, teens found strength and support from their peers. Teens were shown to
experience a drop in self-esteem, increased delinquent or self-destructive behaviour, increased
suicidality, greater struggle with substance abuse, poorer school performance, greater depression
and anger, and worry about their own ability to maintain long-term relationships as adults
(Bowden & Greenberg, 2010).
Gender. Several researchers have found that throughout childhood, gender is one of the
most prominent and enduring factors that influence an individual’s reaction to stressors. The
literature suggested that gender affects a child’s ability to adapt to adversity, with boys tending to
display more obvious externalized behaviours and impaired socialization, and girls experiencing
more internalized behaviours, which are less apparent (Amato, 2005; Luther, 2003; Wallerstein
& Kelly, 1980). Another gender-based difference is seen in separated families because fathers,
the same gender parent of boys, often have less exposure to the children due to changes in living
arrangements and custody. Also, due to similarities to their fathers, boys may be more
scrutinized by their custodial mothers (Amato, 2005). Boys are also thought to follow family
conflict more closely and receive less support because they are perceived to be tougher. The
Amato and Keith meta-analysis of studies conducted before the 1990s revealed “one significant
gender difference: the estimated negative effect of divorce on social adjustment was stronger for
boys than girls. In other areas, however, such as academic achievement, conduct, and
psychological adjustment, no differences between boys and girls were apparent” (p. 81). Due to
the fact that boys tend to react in a more overt and obvious disruptive manner, some experts
negate the implication that boys are more affected than girls and chalk it up to the discrepancies
in internal versus external behaviours expressed. One meta-analysis of studies that distinguished
the impacts of divorce based on gender found “more negative impact on boys than on girls, but
only with respect to certain measures: social relationships, loneliness and cooperativeness. In
other areas, such as academic attachment, boys suffer no more detrimental consequences than
girls do” (O’Connor, 2004, p. 6).
Temperament. Temperament is defined as “stable individual differences in emotional
and behavioral reactivity and regulation that are biologically based and form the early
developing foundation for emerging dimensions of personality” (Rothbart, 2007, as cited in
Deater-Deckard, Calkins & Bell, 2017, p. 151). Temperamental qualities include sociability,
sense of independence, optimism, active helpfulness, easy temperament, physical attractiveness,
healthy self-esteem, and a sense of humour (Hetherington, 1989; Zolkoski & Bullock, 2012).
These attributes are hypothesized to impact a child’s support system as temperament affects
others’ willingness to come to the aid of a child, resulting in a positive or negative outcome
based on the temperament experienced by the support system. Temperament and intelligence of a
child are viewed as important predictors of a child’s recovery because levels of pre-separation
temperament and intelligence have been identified as impacting a child’s post-divorce resilience
(Connor & Zhang, 2006; Hammen, 2003).
Intelligence. Intelligence is another attribute that has been shown to protect against
adversity and improve resilience (Hammen, 2003; Rutter, 2006). A mechanism proposed to
account for this is that intelligent children may be more able to acquire social skills, adopt
parental efforts to reason, practice patience, and understand and adopt procedures such as
following rules. Luther (2003) proposed the possibility “that children with higher IQs are better
able to use internal verbal mediation strategies to regulate negative emotions or are better able to
use verbal strategies in conflict situations to avoid resorting to aggressive or disruptive behavior”
(p. 272). Luther also noted that “at very high lifetime adversity levels, IQ scores became a strong
predictor of conduct, suggesting that children with poor cognitive skills who experience
adversity are at particularly high risk for developing antisocial behaviour problems” (p. 10). It is
clear from these findings that a child’s intelligence is a factor predicting ability to cope following
parental separation. According to Weaver and Schofield (2015), “If children had higher IQ
scores, this buffered the effect of divorce on internalizing problems reported by teachers and the
rate of decrease in teacher-reported externalizing behaviors” (p. 12).
External Factors
According to resiliency researcher Ann Masten in Resilience Definitions, Theory, and
Challenges: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, “There is growing focus on the ways in which people
all over the world draw on cultural practices, beliefs and learning and support from each other to
endure and recover from all kind of challenges” (Southwick, Bonanno, Masten, Panter-Brick, &
Yehuda, 2014, p. 6). Emily Werner (1984) researched resiliency in children using longitudinal
methods to study the outcomes following divorce for children with various risk factors. Werner
found that resilient children had temperamental qualities that provoked positive responses from
family members, friends and strangers, creating a strong network of support, an external
contributing factor for resilience. Also, as was discussed previously, there appears to be a link
between individual and external factors whereby the individual temperament of a child whose
parents have divorced is viewed as positively impacting others, who are more likely, in turn, to
offer support to the child (Luther, 2003).
Familial. The quality and style of parenting immediately following parental separation
has been described by divorce experts as compromised. Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) have
termed this period as a time of “diminished parenting.” As discussed previously, deterioration of
parenting is seen to arise from parental preoccupation with personal stressors, fatigue, intense
emotions, anger, and depression. According to Rappaport, (2013), parental discord often has a
negative effect on parenting skills. Additional negative factors are described as accumulating as
parents readjust psychologically to their new life, which may include distractions resulting from
economic distress and new partners. According to Amato (2005), “Regardless of family
structure, the quality of parenting is one of thebest predictors of children’s emotional and social
well-being” (p. 83).
Level of communication. Keeping children informed during and following parental
divorce is viewed as assisting in their adjustment. Researchers describe children as continuously
balancing new information with what they already know as a way to facilitate the acquisition of
new information (Demetriou, Shayer, & Efklides, 2016). Children also have extensive
imaginations, and it has been shown that when they are left with too little information, they tend
to fill in the blanks and draw unpredictable conclusions. Children have been described as
cognitively egocentric, often looking to themselves for causes of their parents’ marital
breakdown and struggling with self-blame, loss, and fears of separation and abandonment
(Swann, 2017). Parenting experts highlight that there are limits to what to share with a child
based on age appropriateness and maintaining healthy boundaries between parent and child.
Amato’s (2005) findings demonstrated that “children in divorced families tend to have weaker
emotional bonds with mothers and fathers than do their peers in two-parent families” (p. 77). An
impairment of that emotional bond is viewed as diminishing the ongoing level of communication
between parents and children.
Additional change to family structure. While the majority of parents embrace the
formation of a step-family, children are less likely to view the experience positively. For parents,
the formation of a step-family often comes with emotional and economic benefits, but for the
children, this new union comes with much disruption. Children must adapt to living with
someone new, which often alters rules and routines (Amato, 2005).
Amato (2005) looked at a variety of perspectives of what impacts outcomes for children
of divorce. One perspective he examined assumed the absence of a parent in the family home
(often fathers) to be the primary factor. To test this hypothesis, Amato performed a meta-analysis
comparing results of children who lost a parent through divorce, through death, and intact
families. The data showed that both groups of children who lost a parent in either capacity
suffered impairment compared to the intact families, but children who experienced parental
death scored higher on outcome measures than children of divorce, and children in stepfamilies
overall showed no notable difference when compared to children of divorce. Amato concluded
that “overall; the data suggest that parental absence may be a factor in children’s reaction to
divorce, but it is not the only mechanism” (2005, pp. 39-40).
In general, findings demonstrated that “children, in stable, two-parent families have a
higher standard of living, receive more effective parenting, experience more cooperative co-
parenting, are emotionally closer to both parents (especially fathers), and are subjected to fewer
stressful events and circumstances” (Amato, 2005, p. 89). Despite the mechanism for children’s
reduction in functioning being unclear, it is apparent that children whose family structure is
disrupted by divorce experience significant challenges relative to children in intact families.
Level of parental conflict. A growing body of literature has demonstrated that children
whose parents remain in high conflict and display hostility toward the other parent show
increased behavioural, social and emotional difficulties (McCoy, George, Cummings, & Davies,
2013). When high levels of parental conflict are present prior to divorce, children tended to
demonstrate insignificant or even positive improvements following parental divorce. Conversely,
children who come from relatively low-conflict households pre-divorce, show declines in well-
being post-divorce (Amato, 2010). Parental conflicts come in many forms and vary in the level
of child exposure. In general, the further removed children are from the conflict, the fewer
negative effects are experienced. Luther (2003) found that encapsulated conflicts, devoid of child
exposure, resulted in little effect, whereas other types of conflicts that involved the child directly,
as the subject, victim, or observer are shown to have a greater negative effect. Furthermore,
conflicts that are physical, violent or abusive have been shown to have the most adverse
consequences. Luther summarized that “the type of conflict, rather than the frequency of conflict,
has been shown to be more influential in children’s adjustment” (pp.194-195). More recent
research by Gager, Yabiku and Linver (2016) in Conflict or Divorce? Does Parental Conflict
and/or Divorce Increase the Likelihood of Adult Children’s Cohabiting and Marital Dissolution?
found results in support of previous research that conflict within the family resulted in negative
and long-lasting effects on relationships in adulthood. Further findings from this study included
that “the longer children were exposed to their parents’ conflict, the higher the likelihood that
adult children reported a union dissolution in their current romantic relationships” (p. 257).
Conflict that persists after separation has been shown to be particularly harmful (Luther,
2003). This conflict can be observed by the child during parental discord or may result from one,
or both parents denigrating the other to the child, recruiting the child to take sides, or by passing
negative critical messages between the parents through the child (Amato, 2005). In their meta-
analysis, Amato and Keith’s findings supported their hypothesis that “children in intact families
marked by high levels of inter-parental conflict reveal problems comparable to those of children
in divorced families” (2005, p. 40), revealing that the conflict itself poses a threat to children’s
well-being. Early studies compared divorced families with intact families that had high levels of
discord between parents. Although 80% to 90% of families involved in post-separation struggles
recovered their pre-divorce composure (Rappaport, 2013), the remaining 10% to 20% of families
have been shown to continue experiencing conflict for years afterward (Haddad, Phillips, &
Bone, 2016, as cited in Chang & Kier, 2016). According to Davies and Martin (2014) in
Children's Coping and Adjustment in High
Conflict Homes: The Reformulation of Emotional
Security Theory found that “literature on high-conflict homes and children of divorce is the
negative link between child adjustment and exposure to poorly managed inter-parental conflict”
(p. 198).
Often intense conflict creates a situation where parents are unable to find ways to
cooperate post-separation. Parents in this situation tended to engage children in the conflict,
leaving them feeling caught in the middle (Amato & Afifi, 2006). The extreme manifestation of
this clinical phenomenon appears as the child’s rejection of a parent. This rejection is generally
accompanied by strong resistance or refusal of visitation and was originally considered a
pathological alignment between an angry parent and a child that arose from the dynamics of the
separation, and is now referred to as “parental alienation syndrome (PAS)” (Kelly & Johnston,
2001). Common factors which contribute to PAS include: painting the other parent in a bad light,
expressing anger openly about the other parent in the child’s presence, silence, withdrawal of
love or expressions of anger, forcing the child to choose, villainizing other parent, badmouthing,
limiting contact and communication, interfering with communication, asking the child to spy or
keep secrets, removal of reference of the other parent in the home, and blocking access. As
expected, children who are co-opted into alienation of one parent, experience significant negative
effects in multiple areas.
Community. Community is another factor that has the potential to lessen the negative
impacts of divorce on children. According to Boyden and Mann (2005), “Not only do supportive
relationships with family and nonparental adults help to protect children from the negative
effects of stressful situations, there is considerable evidence that social support from peers can
greatly enhance children’s resilience” (p. 7). Role models outside the family may include
teachers, school counsellors, after-school program staff, coaches, clergy, mental health workers,
parents of peer friendships and neighbours. Zolkoski and Bullock (2012) performed an extensive
review of the literature and longitudinal studies examining resiliency in children and youth. They
determined the following community protective factors to be of significant impact on outcomes
for children of divorce: access to early prevention and intervention programs, safety within
neighbourhoods, availability of relevant support services, ample recreational facilities and
programs, accessibility to adequate health services, economic opportunities and the presence of
religious and spiritual organizations. It is clear that strong communities, and the elements that
contribute to these, are important resources for children experiencing parental divorce.
Social and economic hardship. Scholars have become increasingly interested in whether
the effects of parental separation differ due to socioeconomic status. The economic hardship
perspective proposes that the dissolution of the marriage triggers a series of negative social and
economic changes, practical problems and notable levels of stress that impact both parent and
child (Amato, 2005). Amato (2005) highlighted that the dissolution of the marriage involves
economic consequences with a potential relocation and sustainment of two separate homes.
Additionally, children uprooted from their home may need to change schools, losing friends and
support systems of teachers and neighbours, which further impairs the child’s capacity to cope.
“Studies show that frequent moving increases the risk of academic, behavioural, and emotional
problems for children with single parents” (Amato, 2005, p. 84). Brand, Moorez, Song, and Xie,
(2017) observed a correlation between divorce and academic achievement mediated by post-
divorce family income:
Divorce is associated with a decline in family income (Brand, et. al., 2017). Attempts to
level the discrepancies in parental income through child support payments may reduce this
impact but have been shown to be problematic in several ways. Statistics Canada (2011)
examined child support payments and reported that “Nearly all payers (93%) indicated that they
fully complied with the financial arrangements, making all required payments in the last 12
months. In comparison, 75% of financial support recipients indicated that they received the full
amount. Another 13% of recipients stated that their ex-partner paid half or more but not the full
amount, and 8% received less than half the required amount” (Sinah, 2014, p. 23). According to
Amato (2005): “Research showed that children did better at school and exhibit fewer behavioural
problems when non-resident fathers paid child support likewise suggests the importance of
income in facilitating children’s well-being in single-parent households” (p. 83). Thomas and
Högnäs’s (2015) study The Effect of Parental Divorce on the Health of Adult Children found
evidence that suggests a decline in family socioeconomic status (SES) [is] the most relevant
factor post-divorce that perpetuates negative outcomes. In addition, Thomas and Högnäs found
children of divorce experienced “subsequent declines in the accumulation of cognitive skills help
complete the link to poorer health at age 50” (2015, p. 11)
Researchers theorize that children with single parents have an elevated risk of cognitive,
social, and emotional problems. Most theories cite decreased economic standing, and fewer
parental resources available to children as significantly impacting the ability of a child to adapt
to divorce. (Amato, 2005). These findings illustrate that economic stability following divorce an
important factor in family and children’s adjustment.
Promoting Resiliency
Growing up feeling safe, secure and supported promotes what Brooks and Goldstein
(2001) have described as a “resilient mindset” that is associated with an acquired set of specific
skills. Because parental divorce is seen to disrupt many supportive factors putting children at-
risk, it is hypothesized that improvement in these skills may work to reduce the risk. Schaan and
Vögele (2016) concluded that “prevention programs that help to boost children’s resilience might
help to reduce the long-term effects of parental divorce on their attachment style (e.g., rejection
sensitivity), thereby improving their mental health in the long run” (p. 1267). According to
resiliency researcher Ann Masten (2011), “A basic ‘take home’ from research on resilience, both
basic and applied, was the power of positive objectives” (p. 501). Masten, based on the previous
decade of research on resiliency, proposed a shift in the focus of childhood resiliency building
interventions to emphasize attaining positive goals of competence rather than the previous model
of achieving optimal performance and avoiding problems or pitfalls.
According to findings reported in the APA (2014) special issue The Road to Resiliency,
both fixed aspects as well as other skill-based aspects contribute to the development of
resiliency. The report offers the following recommendations to facilitate this process:
Make connections with people. Avoid seeing crises as
insurmountable problems. Accept that change is a part of
living. Move toward your goals. Take decisive actions. Look for
opportunities for self-discovery. Nurture a positive view of
yourself. Keep things in perspective. Maintain a hopeful
outlook. Take care of yourself. Seek additional resources if needed.
(, n.d.)
In Enhancing Resilience in Children: A Proactive Approach, Alvord and Baker (2005)
proposed The Alvord–Baker Social Skills Group Model, as a resiliency-based curriculum and
provided the following intervention strategies for clinicians to utilize when building a therapeutic
program to improve resiliency in children:
1. Teach children and families problem-solving skills to identify
controllable and uncontrollable circumstances and adversities. 2.
Encourage children to express their feelings, both positive and
negative. 3. Help children and families to identify strengths and
positive family experiences. 4. Guide parents and teachers in
fostering self-esteem in children through meaningful
responsibilities whereby children may gain a sense of
accomplishment and mastery. 5. Teach optimistic thinking and
perspective taking. Help children to realistically attribute successes
to themselves and not simply to environmental circumstances. 6.
Teach cognitive strategies such as thought stopping and changing
channels. Children are taught that if their thoughts and emotions
are on the “angry channel,” they can switch to the “calm channel.”
7. Teach relaxation and self-control techniques. 8. Teach parents
that the critical factors in fostering resilience in children are
warmth, limit setting, and consistency. (p. 241)
The extensive research and literature on children’s experience of parental divorce
illustrate that programs designed to mitigate the negative effects need to be mindful of the
individual, family and community factors that affect outcomes negatively, and those that
promote resiliency. As will be reviewed in the next section, programs designed to assist children
following divorce draw upon numerous theories of child development and parent/child
interaction to promote efficacy and appropriateness.
Relevant Theories of Child Development and Parental Attachment
A number of theorists have identified ideal and atypical developmental trajectories of
children. These are important to explore when creating programing intended to address
disruptions of optimal development and to promote resiliency. According to Chafe (2016),
“Developmental changes are rapid and dramatic during childhood, and divorce can have a
powerful influence on this development” (p. S90).
Attachment Theory (Bowlby)
John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth developed the founding principles of attachment
theory through their combined research and analysis of children’s development. Bowlby believed
that to increase the chances for survival, individuals have a compulsive genetic need to obtain
tools for survival, as well as an intrinsic need for an emotional bond with their mother
(Bretherton, 1992).
Attachment is described as a lasting connection with a caregiver, primarily maternal,
where interactions elicit feelings of pleasure and provide relief in times of stress (Bretherton,
1992). The quality of attachment is thought to directly affect an individual’s development,
emotional capabilities, and psychological well-being (Bowlby, 1988). According to Ainsworth
(1979), it may be "an essential part of the ground plan of the human species for an infant to
become attached to a mother figure" (p. 932). A disruption in family cohesion such as divorce
was seen by Bowlby as a crisis capable of negatively altering attachment patterns. Cohn, Cowan,
Cowan, and Pearson (1992, as cited in Cohen, 2005) suggested the following:
Features associated with secure attachment, notably good
communication skills; the use of constructive coping strategies;
and the ability to integrate contradictory emotions, regulate
negative emotions, and solve conflicts cooperatively and
constructively, enable divorcing parents with a secure attachment
style to share parenting with their ex-spouse, with attention to their
children’s best interests, while the insecure attachment styles in
divorcing parents constitute risk factors for difficulties in parent-
child relationships. (p. 84)
Attachment theory claims that individuals have either secure or insecure attachment.
Secure attachments are achieved through readily available, predictable and sensitive caregiving,
which results in an emotionally open child able to accept comfort or protection when distressed.
Insecure attachment patterns include Anxious Avoidant, Anxious Ambivalent and Disorganized
(Bretherton, 1992). The theory posits that in each of the insecure attachment styles, a resulting
deficit in ability to explore and interact can occur (Bowlby, 1988). Basic characteristics of
Attachment theory include; Safe Haven, Secure Base, and Proximity Maintenance. Safe haven
defines the state where reliable comfort and support are accepted from the caregiver when a child
experiences stress. A Secure Base results from reliable interactions that inform the child’s skills
required to learn and explore. Proximity maintenance refers to the child’s ability to explore the
world but still stay close to the caregiver (Ainsworth, 1979).
Attachment theory has undergone some expansion in the past few decades to include
psychobiological findings. The updated theory states that the foundational core relational
experiences in early life are rooted in the desire to survive, shape and predict the way individuals
relate to the world throughout their lifetime and are supported by interdisciplinary developmental
and neurobiological research (Schleider & Weisz, 2017). Schore and Schore (2007) conducted
research to demonstrate “how early emotional transactions with the primary object impact the
development of psychic structure, that is, how affective attachment communications facilitate the
maturation of brain systems involved in affect and self-regulation” (p.1).
Attachment theory is an enduring and evolving model describing the role of parental
attachment on children’s sense of security and well-being and is important to consider when
developing interventions designed for children following parental divorce.
Psychosocial Development Stage Theory (Erikson)
Erik Erikson was interested in the socialization of children and its effects on their sense
of self. He theorized that the formation of personal identity was developed through successful
resolution of eight psychosocial crises that occur in order in unique stages and span a lifetime
(Harter, 1999). Upon completion of each stage, an individual is predicted to either achieve
success, resulting in a healthy and thriving personality, or failure, resulting in a feeling of
inadequacy or damage to the sense of self in this arena (Erikson, 1963). According to this
theoretical perspective, the effects of divorce on children disrupt the successful completion of the
specific stage of child development during which the child learns to cope with conflict and
separation (Waterman, 1982). Erikson’s (1998) stages listed chronologically are: trust versus
mistrust; autonomy versus shame and doubt; initiative versus guilt; industry versus inferiority;
identity versus identity confusion; intimacy versus isolation; generativity versus stagnation; and
integrity versus despair. Eriksonian approaches to optimal development can offer insight into
which developmental processes may be affected by parental divorce so that interventions can
address these potentially harmful disruptions.
Cognitive Development (Piaget)
Children’s cognitive development is described in Jean Piaget’s theory in the context of
interactions with the child’s environment in conjunction with natural maturation. Piaget (as cited
in Case, 1992) proposed stages of development during which children build their understanding
of the world by comparing what they know about the world to what they experience. The
mechanics of Piaget’s theories have remained intact, but revisions to the original theory by Neo-
Piagetians have addressed two critiques of the original stage theory (Demetriou, 2016).
Specifically, Case (1992), an influential Neo-Piagetian, added Executive Control Structures to
the original theory to address concerns about the original theory’s inability to explain individual
differences in learning across multiple domains. Case’s Executive Control Stages correspond to
Piaget’s four main stages; sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational and formal
operational to provide an explanation for how children learn to reason. According to Case’s
approach, understanding these stages and variations in learning types can assist in identifying
effective ways to intervene with children based on their age and stage. This theory predicts that a
child’s capacity for learning is derived from observation, and also claims that there is the
potential for dysfunction in a marital relationship to impact the child’s belief system and
understanding of a healthy relationship.
Piagetan developmental theories provide a helpful framework for hypothesizing about the
type and timing of intervention to use, as well as an understanding of the mechanism for a
disruption in “ideal” child development following divorce.
Archetypes (Jung)
The psychologist Carl Jung was a pioneer in the field of psychoanalysis and explored
concepts such as aspects of the soul, the collective unconscious, spirituality, religious symbols,
imagery, and the unconscious, and developed the concept of archetypes (Jung, 1964). Davydov
and Skorbatyuk (2017), in Archetype Semantics: How It Corresponds to the Concept of “An
Image.” How Archetypal Are Images?, proposed that “all images without exception, from cave
carvings to computer graphics, which are nothing other than images of archetypal patterns, in
turn influence the collective consciousness and the unconscious” (p. 7). Jung theorized that these
archetypes are common to all individuals and suggested that 12 main archetypes make up the
internal self.
The term “archetype” has its origin in ancient Greek. The root words are archein, which
means “original or old” and typos, which means “pattern, model or type.” The combined
meaning is an “original pattern” from which all other similar persons, objects, or concepts are
derived, copied, modelled, or emulated. (Jung, 1981, p. 22)
Jung proposed that the collection of an individual’s archetypes make up the collective
unconscious, with a central force responsible for the integration of all parts to create what Jung
termed “Self” (Stevens, 2001). Jung also believed that humans are hardwired to move toward
wholeness and that disruptions in this pursuit result in an internal rupture or disease. When
aspects of ourselves are ignored or not dealt with, the model posits that there is a resulting
internal conflict (Jung, 1981).
Although this theory identifies many possible archetypes, 12 primary types were
considered by Jung to be at the core of basic human motivation. According to Jung (1981), each
archetype has its own set of values, meanings and personality traits (1981). He identified the 12
common archetypes as: 1. The Innocent, 2. The Orphan/Regular Guy or Gal, 3. The Hero, 4. The
Caregiver, 5. The Explorer, 6. The Rebel, 7. The Lover, 8. The Creator, 9. The Jester, 10. The
Sage, 11. The Magician, and 12. The Ruler. These archetypes are viewed as universal and
familiar and are often found as characters in stories, television, movies and fairytales. Children’s
literature is full of examples representing various archetypes. Comic books and superheroes may
include all 12 archetypes in the formation of characters; often one or two characteristics or traits
are exaggerated for dramatic effect (Bongco, 2013). The result is an extreme representation of a
particular archetype, making them easy to identify.
Jungian archetypes provide opportunities to explore themes, and to explore universal
experiences for children undergoing the transition of divorce.
Superhero Therapy (Rubin)
The use of comics in psychotherapy is not new. Dr. Lauretta Bender, head psychiatrist,
Bellevue Hospital (NY), along with colleague Dr. Reginald Lourie studied the effects of comics
on children in the 1940’s. In her work with children, Bender noticed that “the spontaneous art
work of children in many instances concerns itself with the various heroes and what they have
done in their more recent episodes” (Bender & Lourie, 1941, p. 541). The clinicians realized that
they could capitalize on kids’ familiarity with comic book characters when developing
interventions and published their article “The Effect of Comic Books on the Ideology of
Children” in 1941. In this paper Bender and Lourie presented several case studies. The authors
cited the successful use of comics and superheroes with their patients, making observations such
as: “By identifying herself with the heroine who is always rescued from perilous situations, she
temporarily achieved an escape from her own difficulties” (p. 542).
Superheroes take on many forms and provide inclusive, diverse role models with the
capability of adapting to societal needs over time. According to Rubin (2007) superhero fantasy
play or used as metaphor creates healing experiences so that “children and adults can work on
and resolve past crises (regressive), express current issues and struggles and experiences
catharsis around them, or relate desires for the way they would like things to work out for them
(progressive)” (p. 16). During the Golden Age of Comics, in the 1940s, heroes were more like
gods than mortals. The devastation of World War II created the need for heroes capable of
unbelievable feats that could save the world (Rubin, 2007). The Silver Age of Comics followed
during the 1950s and 1960s, when superheroes became more human with apparent flaws. During
the 1970’s, the Bronze Age of Comics, the trend of normalizing superheroes continued as
authors realized their readers wanted their heroes to be more attainable (Rubin, 2007). This type
of flawed hero is still in favour today, with examples such as Batman, Ironman, Captain
America, Jessica Jones and the Incredible Hulk. According to Rubin (2007) the resulting more
relatable hero and storylines, which mixed the fantastic with everyday life, provide an excellent
therapeutic tool. Rubin, a psychotherapist and researcher interested in the intersection of
psychology and popular culture made the following observation:
Of the various theories, tools, and techniques available to the
therapist, one of the most powerful resources for self-
understanding, growth, and healing may well be fantasy. It is the
metaphoric place where problems of the past and present meet the
possibilities of the future, in conflicts both minor and epic. It is the
place in which children and adults escape from but also make
sense of their worlds by creating and then living their stories—
their own personal mythologies. (p. 3)
There are many reasons why the superhero metaphor appeals to children: The genre is
well known to children, adolescents and adults, and the material is colourful and engaging. The
characters and stories range from one dimensional and simplistic to complex and mysterious.
According to Rubin (2007), the portrayal of superheroes and the inclusion of fatal flaws allow a
child to empathize and demonstrate that strength and perseverance can be utilized to overcome
challenges. In comic book therapy, messages of hope and the acceptance of difference are
common themes. Munoz, Pearson, Hellman, McIntosh, Khojasteh, and Fox (2018) studied
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which include divorce, to determine the impact on
hope and resiliency. Munoz, et al., concluded, “Due to reported negative correlations between
the two psychological states, some have even suggested that increasing hope is an effective
target outcome of intervention efforts to reduce PTSD symptoms” (Gilman et al., 2012; Hassija,
Luterek, Naragon-Gainey, Moore, & Simpson, 2012; Levi et al., 2012; Weinberg et al., 2016; as
cited in Munoz, 2018, p. 1)
There is also an honour code that advocates standing up for the weak, who cannot defend
themselves. Family, love, betrayal, racism, terrorism, relationships and morality are the themes
that create the foundation of the stories and provide many relatable aspects for children. “The use
of superheroes in fantasy play lends itself particularly well to helping children with the various
problems that they bring into the therapy room” (Rubin, 2007, p. 76). When parents as role
models are discarded, due to the negative aspects of parental conflict and diminished parenting,
children may adopt fantasy characters to fill the void. “Superheroes provide ideal archetypes for
some of these personas, both positive and negative. Eventually for some individuals, the ‘as if’
becomes the ‘I am’” (Rubin, 2007, p. 282). Examples of when this concept could be utilized in
problems resulting from parental divorce include when children: have misconceptions, feel
responsible for parental conflict, harbour negative feelings towards the self, feel unable to
manage, lack competency to accomplish a task or overcome challenges, or struggle with self-
esteem. Aligning superheroes’ struggles and successes in a therapeutic setting is seen as a way to
help children imagine positive outcomes and find their strength (Rubin, 2007).
The possibility of drawing on comics, fantasy and superheroes as a means to explore,
identify, and imagine alternative possibilities, makes the therapeutic use of comics a potentially
helpful intervention to increase resilience in distressed children following parental divorce.
Six Tasks for Children to Overcome Challenges of Parental Divorce (Wallerstein)
Judith Wallerstein was a prominent psychologist who devoted much of her distinguished
career to studying the effects of divorce on children. Wallerstein conducted a longitudinal study
begining in 1971 that included 131 children from 60 divorced families with interviews every five
years for 25 years (Wallerstein & Lewis, 2004). Wallerstein’s views on the impact of divorce on
children were considered by some to be exaggerated. Feminists accused Wallerstein of trying to
“guilt-trip” women into staying in destructive marriages (Moore, 2016). In addition, “Some
researchers questioned her methods, particularly the relatively small number of subjects, the lack
of a control group and the use in her books of composite characters cobbled together from
multiple research subjects” (Grady, 2012, p. A12). Over the years Wallerstein’s position
softened, and work by other researchers began to support her findings. Still, some maintained
that Wallerstein’s views were too harsh. In the journal article “Children of Divorce: The
Psychological Tasks of the Child,” Wallerstein (1983) stated: “The child's experience in divorce
is comparable in several ways to the experience of the child who loses a parent through death or
to the child who loses his or her community following a natural disaster” (p. 230). Wallerstein’s
study findings revealed that divorce had a negative impact on childhood development and the
overall ability of children to cope. In addition to reporting negative impacts, Wallerstein
conceptualized a set of six sequential tasks that could counteract the damages resulting from the
dissolution of the family unit: 1. Acknowledging the Reality of the Marital Rupture, 2.
Disengaging from Parental Conflict and Distress and Resuming Customary Pursuits, 3.
Resolution of Loss, 4. Resolving Anger and Self-Blame, 5. Acceptingthe Permanence of the
Divorce, 6. Achieving Realistic Hope Regarding Relationships.
Despite the controversial opinions surrounding some of Wallerstein’s theories, the six
tasks model is widely accepted and forms the foundation of the majority of intervention
programs for children of divorce and should be considered when developing any intervention
program with this population: “These tasks have become the basis of many of the programs
currently providing support to children experiencing parental separation and divorce (see e.g.,
Fischer, 1997)” (as cited in O’Connor, p. 10).
Current Treatment Models and Programs
As part of developing a novel intervention aimed at a specific group and issue, it is
important to examine the treatment models and programs that are currently available. The
following section will review current programs that are represented in a variety of settings.
Programs typically take on three forms: child-focused, parent-focused and dyadic parent-
child focused. Child-focused programs target coping skills to manage stress and promote healthy
boundaries and aim to improve emotional expression and interpersonal resources while engaging
children behaviorally in activities and creative expression (Geelhoed, Blaisure, & Geasler, 2001).
The six-task model theorized by Wallerstein (1983) provides the foundation for most children-
of-divorce child-focused programs. Parent-focused programs target parent-child relationship
quality, discipline, anger management and the quality of interactions with non-residential
parents. Child-focused programs are the focus of the programs presented in this review.
The majority of children and parents have been shown to recover from the initial acute
distress of divorce and to resume the relationship of caring and protective parenting present prior
to separation (Lamb et al., 1997). For most children, it is hypothesized that the ability to cope
may be enhanced by external interventions, during which children learn coping behaviours
through skills acquired by observation, education or therapeutic interventions (Pedro-Carroll,
2005). Researchers have identified several potentially modifiable factors that predict children’s
post-divorce adjustment problems, including “inter-parental conflict, parent-child relationship
quality, discipline, children’s cognitions, and children’s coping strategies. Theoretically, if
programs modify these factors, reductions in children’s adjustment problems should occur”
(Emery, 2011, p. 26).
Types of Support Groups for Children of Divorce
Lay- and Peer-Based Support Groups
Lay- and peer-based groups are those that are self-directed by members. These groups do
not include an active, professional facilitator and no training is provided or required to run this
type of group. Children attending these types of groups have been shown to benefit from the
experience of being in a safe place to share, and appear to respond well, but the impact of these
groups on adjustment remains unclear (O’Connor, 2004).
Online Support Groups
Online support groups are relatively new and are not currently widely implemented.
These forums provide anonymity, which is believed to reduce issues of embarrassment, a feature
that could particularly be of benefit to adolescents. Joseph Walther (2013), an expert in the field
of virtual communication, performed a study on online support groups and concluded that online
support groups are the hardest to manage. This author identified the challenge of being in an
unmonitored forum where little guidance or operating guidelines are provided. Walther (2013)
reported that in these settings, interactions between members may easily escalate, potentially
resulting in negativity, judgement, misinformation, misdirection and slander expressed between
participants. These online delivery systems for support are still in their infancy of
implementation. Hopefully, with time, more therapeutic, evidence-based prevention programs
will occupy this space.
An example of such a program is Little Children, Big Challenges: Divorce. Oades-Sese,
Cohen, Allen and Lewis (2014) in Resilience Interventions for Youth in Diverse Populations
studied Little Children, Big Challenges: Divorce, an interactive program by the Sesame Street
Resilience Project and determined the following three key protective factors fostering resiliency
in children of divorce, (1) attachment relationships (circle of care), (2) emotional understanding,
and (3) sense of self. The aims of this well-researched intervention are as follows:
(A) provide children (ages 2-8) with the tools and language
necessary to help them cope with and understand divorce at an
age-appropriate level, (b) aid families in communicating and
expressing feelings concerning the divorce, (c) teach children a
feelings vocabulary, (d) provide parent tips such as managing
strong emotions, dealing with blended families, and reducing
stress, and (e) reassure children that they will be cared for, and
that— together with their family— they can learn ways to adjust to
their new life. (Oades et. al., 2014, p. 195)
Intervention Programs for Children in Canada
Families in Transition (FIT)
Coping with Life is a therapeutic and emotional support group for children aged 4 to 14
offered by Families in Transition. This group is provided by Family Services Association of
Metropolitan Toronto and is open to all children (Families in Transition, n.d.). According to the
Families in Transition website, the Coping with Life program consists of six sessions and serves
six to 10 children in a group. Children have the opportunity to obtain support for the challenges
related to parental separation. The program seeks to validate children’s feelings and normalize
the experience of separation/divorce. Coping skills are also introduced to deal with difficulties
related to parental separation. Although Coping with Life is a child-focused program, it often
runs in conjunction with a parent program. Enrolled families are given a case manager, who
provides an outtake parent and child session. During this exit interview, the case manager often
solidifies change in parental behaviours and incorporates results from the children’s program,
including recommendations for additional services. This group is facilitated by qualified
counsellors and includes activities such as videos, letters to parents and themed discussions.
Families in Transition services approximately 1500 families annually. Similar programs run in
other provinces, including It is Still O.K. in Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Manitoba
government’s Caught in the Middle (O’Connor, 2004). O’Connor reviewed several programs for
children of divorce and concluded the following:
Most of the programs encountered engaged parents individually in
the program at some stage, reflecting providers’ widespread
opinion that parents need to be involved for the programs to have
therapeutic effect, that is, to bring about the children’s well-being
and emotional and behavioural adjustment. (p. 25)
Jewish Family and Child Services (JFCS)
One Family, Two Homes is a program designed for parents and children of divorce. The
focus of this group is to encourage children to express their feelings and learn coping strategies
(JFCS, n.d.). Parent workshops and child group sessions run conjunctively for six
sessions. One Family, Two Homes is intended to aid transition in typical parental divorce. The
agency describes the program on their website as follows:
Sessions for parents will include tips for keeping kids out of the conflict; how to
actively listen to your child; the impact of separation and divorce on children.
Sessions for kids will include: “Do other children going through divorce feel the
same way I do?” “How do I make myself feel better?” “Myths about divorce.
(JFCS, n.d.)
This program was created in response to a long wait list for the more intense program
High Conflict Separation and Divorce, formerly called Picking Up the Pieces. According to
Program Director, Elinor Gertner, One Family, Two Homes is “a therapy-oriented program for
parents and children experiencing divorce and separation, aimed primarily [at] improve[ing]
communication among parents and children, not intended for high conflict parents who cannot
examine their own behaviour, or families where violence is involved” (Gertner, pers. comm.,
cited in O’Connor, 2004, p. 79). This program was established in 2002, has no publicized
program evaluations and, according to Gertner, has high satisfaction rates (O’Connor, 2004).
According to the program description provided on the JFCS website, topics include “impact of
conflict on children, different interaction models for different levels of conflict, how to avoid
being triggered by ex-partner, different parenting strategies for higher conflict families” (JFCS
44, n.d.). To be inclused in this program,
families undergo an intensive intake assessment and have often completed the One Family, Two
Homes program, but have been identified as requiring further assistance.
The Rainbows program is facilitated by volunteers who have been provided with brief
training and runs for 12 sessions (, n.d.). This program falls under the classification
of Lay- and Peer-Based Support Groups. Locations are not fixed and occur in community
settings. According to their website:
Rainbows is an effective preventive program that embraces the
latest resources available; continual revision and updating;
structure, aim, purpose and goal; and quality control and
evaluation. Rainbows is an International Organization celebrating
over 25 years of experience with grieving youth and adults. Over
2.6 million satisfied participants, preschool children through adult,
have used our curricula. The Rainbows program is designed for
children with age specific groups that span from pre-school age
through to grade twelve. The program consists of journals,
activities, games, and stories that are designed to help participants
express their feelings and move through grief. Each unit addresses
the topics of Self, Family, Belonging, Fears, Blame, Trust,
Forgiveness, Step-families, Feelings, Changes, God (in the
religious editions), Transitions, Coping, Reaching Out, and
Acceptance. (, n.d.).
Intervention Programs for Children in the U.S.
A review of the research on intervention programs for children of divorce in Canada
found frequent methodological problems in the evaluations process. Often programs only
provide short-term assessments, which limit the value of the effectiveness in a preventative
intervention (Emery, Kitzmann, & Waldron, 1999; Grych & Fincham, 1992; Lee et al., cited in
Rose, 2009). In the U.S., programs have undergone more extensive research to validate efficacy
through replicated studies and empirical evaluations (Emery et al., 1999; Greene et al., 2006;
Haine et al., 2003, cited in Rose, 2009). Pedro-Carroll’s Children of Divorce Intervention
Program (CODIP) was spawned from the Children’s Support Group (CSG, Stolberg & Mahler,
1994), the child component of the Divorce Adjustment Project (DAP). The two programs remain
similar with the overall tenets based on successful completion of Wallerstein’s (1983) six
hierarchical, divorce-related coping tasks facing children of divorce. The programs are designed
to help children to develop skills to reduce their anxiety about family issues, reduce
misconceptions, develop problem-solving skills and, thus, decrease emotional and behavioural
problems (Eaton, 2017). “In one experimental and multiple quasi-experimental trial, CODIP has
been shown to reduce a range of adjustment problems (e.g., anxiety, classroom problems) and
improve divorce-related perceptions” (Vélez & Wolchik, 2012, p. 2). According to Drewes and
Green (2014), play as a means of therapy provides children with opportunities to make meaning
of their experiences, communicate with others, as well as work through traumatic events such as
their parents’ divorce.
Although COPID is a well-researched program that clearly documents the positive
outcomes achieved by participants, there is no breakdown of the program in this research to
identify the relative components responsible for the positive outcomes. Senko (2016) conducted
research to address this gap and determine the factors that contributed to positive results in the
COPID program. Senko’s findings indicated that much of the success of the group was achieved
through the dynamics of the highly supportive group and the nurturing nature of the facilitators
rather than the curriculum itself.
Long-time researchers on the impacts of parental divorce on children, Sandler, Wolchik
and Porter, have created several programs for children of divorced parents: Parenting Through
Change (PTC), the Family Transitions - Programs, the New Beginnings Program (NBP) and The
Children of Divorce – Coping with Divorce (CoD-CoD). These programs operate in the U.S and
have been the subject of much research that has demonstrated positive effects on children’s
adjustment problems. “In a randomized controlled trial, the PTC decreased adjustment problems
three years after participation and decreased delinquency (e.g., fewer arrests) nine years after
participation” (Vélez & Wolchik, 2012, p. 3). NBP has been evaluated in two randomized
controlled trials; both showed positive effects for internalized and externalized issues. “A six-
year follow-up of the second trial showed a 37% reduction in mental disorder diagnoses as well
as positive effects on symptoms of mental disorder, internalizing problems, externalizing
problems, substance use, grades, competence and number of sexual partners” (Vélez & Wolchik,
2012, p. 3). Vélez and Wolchik concluded that multiple theory-guided interventions have
demonstrated short- and long-term positive effects on adjustment problems for children
experiencing parental separation or divorce (2012).
Children of Divorce - Coping with Divorce (CoD-CoD) now includes a web-based
coping intervention program that has undergone evaluation in a randomized clinical trial with
147 participants. Findings supported improvements in coping efficacy and reduced mental health
problems (as reported by children and parents) (Boring, 2011). According to the program
description available on their website:
The Children of Divorce – Coping with Divorce (CoD-CoD)
program is a five-module internet-based mental health promotion
program for children of divorce ages 11 and up. Through the
careful adaptation of intervention components previously
demonstrated to be effective for children from disrupted families,
CoD-CoD is designed to promote the children’s development of
four divorce-specific protective factors (Table 3.4.1[see table 1])
that have been identified through millions of dollars of clinical
research: increased active coping, decreased avoidant coping,
improved coping efficacy, and healthier divorce-related appraisals.
(Boring, n.d.,
Table 1: How CoD-CoD Addresses the Four Protective Factors
Increased Active Coping
• Problem-Solving
• Positive Cognitions
• Psychoeducation
Decreased Avoidant Coping
• Feeling Awareness
• Relaxation Training
• Distraction Coping
Improved Coping Efficacy
• Stressor Controllability
• Reduced Wishful Thinking
• Peer Testimonials
• Coping Practice
Healthier Divorce Appraisals
• Positive Cognitions
• Divorce Information
In a review of the effectiveness of Children of Divorce group programs, Rose (2009)
found programs that address psychological tasks in addition to coping skills and emotional
support proved to be effective. Rollercoasters (and the above-mentioned U.S. programs) are
examples of such groups and “showed that though 85% of parents reported at least some degree
of improvement, teachers reported no differences among the program participants in classroom
behavior” (Fischer, 1999, cited in Rose, 2009, p. 26). Rose concluded that there was modest
subcategories with links to specific leaders and followers of specific art therapy approaches
(Malchiodi, 2003). A fourth approach combines three of the above-mentioned branches with the
specific art therapy approach selected by the art therapist and the needs of the client. This way of
working is named for its style, Eclectic/Integrative (Rubin, 2005).
Psychoanalytical-Based Art Therapy: Jungian (Jung)
Art therapists using a psychoanalytical approach draw on the principles of
psychodynamic theories that have the goal of uncovering the unconscious. This practice
examines how past conflicts influence the present and are concerned with human thought and
expression (Robb, 2012). Michael Edwards was an influential Jungian art therapist and academic
from the U.K. Edwards utilized a Jungian-influenced style with emphasis on the collective
unconscious and archetypes (as cited in Malchiodi, 2003). Edwards’s approach to Jungian
analytic art therapy emphasizes art as an expression of the unconscious through inner sources of
imagery and relies heavily on active imagination and symbolic speech in the practice (Edwards,
2001). Edwards’s approach highlights the individual’s inner sources of imagery and the
“personified image” that preoccupied Jung.
Humanistic-Based Art Therapy
Humanistic-based art therapy comprises a broad group of approaches that are concerned
with the “here and now,” with efforts focused on attaining self-actualization, self-realization and
self-responsibility (Simon, 2005). “This practice draws on humanistic theories, such as Child-
centered (Rogers, 1965); Gestalt (Perls, Hefferline & Goodman, 1969), Transactional Analysis
(Berne, 1961); Existential Therapy (May, 1961); and interpersonal individual/group therapies
(Laing, 1959; Sullivan, 1955; Yalom, 1975)” (as cited in Westwood, 2010, p. 19). Several art
therapies that fall under the umbrella of humanistic-based art therapy will be examined
individually to highlight the unique aspects of each approach.
Client-Centred (Rogers)
Client-centred therapy, a therapy approach that was developed by Carl Rogers, is an
integrated multimodal therapy incorporating empathetic listening, authenticity and non-
judgmental or interpretive principles (Dryden & Mytton, 1999). Carl Rogers believed self-
actualization was promoted through creative expression and practised the unconditional
acceptance of clients’ good and bad polarities and purported that creative expression emerged
from the conditions of acceptance by the therapist but could not be forced: “From the very nature
of the inner conditions of creativity, it is clear that they cannot be forced but must be permitted to
emerge” (Rubin, 2012, Kindle Locations 3909-3910). Carl Rogers’s approach was extrapolated
and applied to art therapy by his daughter, Natalie, who called the approach “Person-centred
expressive arts therapy.” Natalie Rogers viewed “rigidity” as the antithesis of psychological
health and was strongly nondirective in her approach, trusting the wisdom of her clients and
encouraging them to be open to new experiences (Sommers-Flanagan, 2011).
Gestalt (Rhyne)
“The basic assumption of Gestalt therapy is that individuals can deal effectively with
their life problems. The central task of the therapist is to help clients fully experience their being
in the here-and-now, by becoming aware of how they prevent themselves from feeling and
experiencing in the present” (Rubin, 2012, Kindle Locations 3310-3317).
A Gestalt approach to art therapy was developed by Janie Rhyne. As in Gestalt talk
therapy, Rhyne encouraged clients to conduct as much of the therapy independently with a
noninterpretive nonjudgmental presence. With this approach, Rhyne encouraged clients to draw
their own interpretations and express their feelings using art materials, dream work, role-playing
and storytelling to promote self-actualization through self-expression (Rhyne, 1973).
Phenomenological (Betensky and Carpendale)
Phenomenology was defined by Carpendale (2003):
The study of essences: the essence of perception and the essence of
consciousness. It is a deeply contemplative philosophical method in which one
allows oneself to perceive the many levels of meaning implicit in the description
of reality so that one can distill the essence” (p. 1)
Mala Betensky, a prominent art therapist, introduced the recognition of elements as symbolic
expression, through the use of line, shapes and colour and how they can be viewed from a
phenomenological perspective (Rubin, 2012). “The therapist’s task is to watch the client at work,
in addition to giving active guidance or participating in other ways. It is largely a silent task, but
the therapist as participant-observer is far from passive” (Rubin, 2012, Kindle Locations 3086-
3088). For these therapists, the art is considered a pre-intentional record of this experience of
internal stress. The role of the art therapist is to help the client “see” with intentional perception
(Carpendale, 2002).
Psychoeducational-Based Art Therapy
Psychoeducation in therapy views the role of the therapist not in terms of
abnormality/diagnosis/ prescription/ therapy/ cure, but, instead views the work in terms of the
ambitions or goal-setting/ skill-teaching/goal achievement (Authier, 1977). In this approach, the
client is viewed as a pupil rather than patient, the therapist as a teacher with the emphasis of the
work being education and skill-building (Hornby, 1990). Psychoeducational based art therapy is
similar to the approach described above with activities designed to aid an individual in the
acquisition of a new skill or behavior being art-based. This therapeutic approach not only
provides client with information about their condition or situation, it also provides facilitates the
development of skills to manage what they are experiencing (Malchiodi, 2003).
Art Therapy Efficacy and Rationale
Evidence-based practice (EBP) has become the standard in research, yet measuring
efficacy in art therapy research is still relatively lacking. EBP refers to clinical practice that has
been shown to meet the rigours of the scientific method, which poses a challenge for many of the
approaches that have highly subjective elements. According to Gilroy (2006):
Art therapy has not, as yet, provided unequivocal evidence of effectiveness in any
of its many applications and will continue to be undervalued, and indeed be at risk
until outcomes are much more thoroughly addressed. Effectiveness is paramount
in our policy-driven times, but it is critical that this is investigated through both
quantitative and qualitative research. Outcome research of any kind only makes
sense when positioned alongside qualitative research that goes beyond the
boundaries of EBP orthodoxy to demonstrate not only that art therapy works but
also how and why its unique processes enable clients to see the world differently
and become able to effect changes in their lives. (Kindle Locations 3520)
Art therapy research in the past decade has expanded to include neuroscience.
Masterson, Findlay and Kaplan (2008) in their book Art Therapy and Clinical Neuroscience
demonstrated connections in the practice of art therapy and brain function. Their findings
illustrated that art therapy activities, grounded in affective-sensory experiences, provide relief for
clients through the expression of emotions and the act of art-making, which they posit “facilitates
the expression of mind-body connectivity through the remediation of acute and chronic stress”
(p. 26). The authors elaborated:
Art therapy practices can assist in regulating limbic affects by engaging left cortical
functions. For example, art therapists may be able to do so by asking clients to title the
artwork and talk about their feelings with the therapist. The left hemisphere specializes in
the reception of language and the production of speech. (p. 36)
Verbal communication can be challenging for children at the best of times. Additional
issues such as anger and low self-esteem compound this difficulty. Alavinezhada, Mousavi, and
Sohrabi conducted a research study to determine the effects of art therapy on aggressive children
with anger and self-esteem issues. The study findings supported art therapy as an effective
intervention and showed that, compared to the control group, participants experienced the
following benefits:
Learning coping responses, new skills or problem-solving techniques, increasing sense of
belonging, offering non-threatening ways to communicate complex feelings...Through
the art therapy program, self-esteem improvement occurs as a result of the study and is in
line with previous findings. (pp. 115-116)
Slayton, D’Archer, and Kaplan (2010) reviewed the literature on the effectiveness of art
therapy. Although the outcome of their study found a body of data supporting the effectiveness
of art therapy, they concluded that a lack of standardization in the reporting practices weakened
this conclusion. Gilroy (2006, as cited in Quinlan, 2016) provided evidence of positive effects in
the art therapy literature on children and adolescents in educational and mental health settings:
“The literature demonstrated alleviation of stress, facilitation of communication and interaction,
better ability to symbolize and reduction in severity and frequency of symptoms” (p. 6).
Liebmann (2008) argued that art therapy provides an effective approach when working with
children with anger issues and identified several mechanisms such as directives focusing on
symbolic expressions of anger; utilizing metaphors for anger, identifying and expressing feelings
that mask anger, and expressing feelings behind anger; and exercises that look at anger and
replace anger with creativity.
Brady, Moss, and Kelly (as cited in Brady, 2017) evaluated an art therapy program in a
multidisciplinary mental health service setting using a mixed method design to assess the role of
art therapy within the acute mental health service division and made the following conclusion:
The rationale was the belief that people with mental health problems needed to
express themselves and often had difficulty doing so. In this study, both staff and
service users strongly supported the use of art therapy as part of a range of
multidisciplinary services available to patients in an acute psychiatry setting. A
myriad of benefits was identified by staff, including reducing social isolation,
building confidence and providing a positive activity with opportunity for self-
expression. (p. 4)
While there is evidence-based support for the use of art therapy with children, there is
still a relative lack of scientific research that demonstrates its efficacy at this time.
School-Based Group Model
Three advantages of group work with children of divorce based primarily in schools were
highlighted in Rose’s (2009) study and identified as: (1) convenience and high demand, due to
the prevalence of divorces involving children’s schools and agencies, which are full of potential
candidates that would benefit from a focused intervention; (2) viable and efficient use of
resources offering an affordable, sometimes subsidized program, (3) children being more
comfortable expressing challenging feelings about divorce to peers rather than in individual
therapy and social work sessions. Rose’s (2009) study focusing on empirical research studies of
the effectiveness of major group work programs with young people concluded that “childhood
and early adolescence affected by parental divorce showed that most published program
evaluation research studies show that short-term, structured group work can effectively help
children cope with divorce” (p. 226). Vélez, Wolchik and Sandler (2012) also supported this
intervention model, stating: “Multiple theory-guided interventions have demonstrated short- and
long-term positive effects on children’s post-divorce adjustment problems” (p. 4).
Summary of Findings
The collected findings from the literature review reveal that children are negatively
impacted by parental divorce, showing internalized and externalized effects resulting in deficits
in school performance, social interactions and personal relationships later in life. To compound
these troubles, this crisis for children occurs when their primary caregivers are struggling with
their own experience of adjustment related to loss of a partner, financial implications and
managing changing family dynamics. Most experts in the field agree that children experience a
period of adjustment lasting approximately two years and rationalize that findings inconsistent
with this conclusion have resulted from the use of data that do not account for the impact of
parental conflict which may commence years prior to separation (Amato, 2010; Luther, 2003).
An early prevention approach for this population is desirable because resiliency research shows
that many factors contribute to improved resiliency of children, which can be nurtured or taught
through an emphasis on positive goals and achievement. Studies have demonstrated that support
provided during this period alleviates some of the struggles experienced by children of divorce,
and will also help to identify the small percentage of children who are vulnerable to experiencing
long-term negative effects (Chang & Kier, 2016).
Theoretical Framework
The impact of parental divorce and the surrounding pre- and post-parental conflict
contributes to a variety of issues for the children of these families. A review of the impacts of
divorce on children, as well as current theories and interventions found to be effective for
children who have experienced hardship, provided the framework for the rationale of the
proposed program design. In an effort to improve outcomes for children of divorce, I identified
several areas of focus to be addressed in an art therapy intervention. These areas of focus were
selected based on research on the collective experience of children following parental divorce,
current therapeutic interventions for children, resiliency-building approaches, and effective art
therapy approaches, group therapy approaches, and school-based interventions. Key aspects of
the intervention that aim to improve outcomes for children of divorce include instilling hope,
correcting misinformation and misdirected blame, disengaging from conflict, and improving
temperament through managing loss and depression, understanding origins of anger, and
establishing a safe space. The proposed program is based on my interpretation of the data
presented in the literature review. Jungian archetypes, Wallerstein’s six tasks, promoting
resiliency, humanistic art therapy and the use of the Superhero metaphor were considered in the
design of each art directive and weekly treatment focus that make up the art therapy intervention.
Instilling Hope
An Art Therapy Superhero-Themed Intervention for Children of Divorce is designed to
invite hope into the therapeutic setting, including hope for overcoming obstacles and for a
positive future. Hope has been identified as an integral aspect of building resilience (Munoz, et.
al., 2018). Superhero films are often shaped by the theme of hope and include protagonists that
struggle with losses and the pursuit of hope as they address personal challenges. The iconic
superhero Superman demonstrates the concept of hope in his belief that people can be good and
are worth saving. The “S” on Superman’s chest is in fact not an “S” at all; rather it is a symbol
that stands for hope, represented by a winding river to reflect the idea that hope comes and goes
(Nolan & Snyder, 2013). When Thor loses hope as a result of his father’s disapproval and
banishment, he loses his strength and his will to fight. Thor’s diminished sense of self allows him
to be overcome by his enemies and his internal sense of self is further weakened to such a degree
that he is unable to wield his hammer (Feige & Branagh, 2011). Citing such examples within a
therapy group has the potential to humanize these superheroes, putting them on equal footing
with child participants, and instilling hope and confidence in children so they can uncover inner
strengths, learn new skills and make efforts to overcome adversity.
Correcting Misinformation and Misdirected Blame
Origin stories for many superheroes often include the acknowledgment of conflicts,
moral struggles, personal flaws and limitations (Rubin, 2007). They also often begin with a
disruption to the typical family model. Spiderman, Batman and Superman each have an origin
story that includes the loss of their parents and each subsequently struggles with issues of
abandonment and self-blame. A focus of the group will recognize the reality of the child’s new
family dynamic, will aim to reduce stigma related to divorced families, and will encourage the
inclusion of perspectives that expose participants to diverse family structures and stories in
which characters experience isolation and a sense of being an outsider. Participation in the group
will facilitate empathy for characters who are struggling in the story and will create an
opportunity to recognize the character’s misdirected self-blame, which in turn, will create a
pathway to seeing misdirected blame in one’s own situation. Aspects of the superhero code of
conduct such as compassion can be referenced here as a way to highlight the importance of
behaving with understanding towards others as well as being compassionate and understanding
with oneself.
Issues related to negative self-talk will be addressed through discussions of the inner
critic versus the inner coach (Adams, 2013). Instead of the using the term inner critic, the term
inner villain will be used as a way to enhance the superhero metaphor. To illustrate this concept,
the relationship between Thor and his brother Loki will be used as an example of unhelpful
externalized blame. Specifically, in the 2011 superhero film (Feige & Branagh, 2011), Loki uses
misinformation to manipulate Thor, shames Thor, resulting in a negative impact on Thor’s
concept of self, which leaves him unable to defend himself, resulting in his capture.
Disengaging from Conflict
A Psychoeducational approach teaching the concepts of disengaging from conflict,
conflict resolution and fair fighting rules will be utilized to help children manage issues
presented as a result of parental discord and potential parental alienation. In The Batman Effect
James Stanfield (2017) stated that empathy is a key component in managing conflict. According
to paediatrician and author, Dr. Laura Jana (as cited in Stanfield, 2017):
Impersonating a superhero helps children learn to see things from another’s
perspective, a form of empathy that is an important foundational skill for success
in adulthood… The child is literally starting to train the brain to think like, be like
and act like someone else. (p. 1)
Roleplaying superhero conflict resolution to normalize the idea of conflict and to practice
effective ways to disengage will be the fundamental techniques utilized to assist children to
achieve this goal. Using superhero aspects such as code of conduct or honour code will be used
to illustrate these concepts.
Managing Loss and Depression
Acknowledging feelings around the loss of the traditional family unit and creating
opportunities to address sadness due to reduced contact with one or both parents will be
discussed in the group. Children will be encouraged to recognize issues that are beyond their
control and develop problem-solving skills to tackle issues within their control. According to Dr.
Janina Scarlet (2014) using superheroes who have experienced similar issues helps to resolve an
individual’s struggles:
Researchers suggest that when we recognize that we have gone through a painful
experience just as others this may allow us to feel a connection with others and
this may increase feelings of love and compassion and reduce depression and
stress. (p. 1)
Understanding Origins of Anger
Encouragement to express both positive and negative feelings will be incorporated into
the art directives and group discussion. Exploring healthy options for the expression of anger
will be presented and calming techniques to increase emotional regulation will be introduced. To
create an externalized representation of “the angry monster inside,” references to superheroes
who struggle with anger will be provided. Hulk is a natural choice to demonstrate the struggles
Dr. Banner experiences when he succumbs to his rage. Similarly, at the beginning of the Thor
trilogy, Thor expresses his anger through fighting, leading his father to disapprove and view him
as unfit to rule until he learns to manage his anger and to become diplomatic and selfless (Feige
& Branagh, 2011). Thor eventually adjusts his views and actions, earns back his father’s trust
and approval, and only then regains his ability to use his hammer. In Batman Begins Bruce
Wayne is overcome with guilt and anger surrounding the circumstances of his parents’ murder.
During his ninja training, Bruce must face the issues of anger and self-blame in order to discover
his underlying beliefs and find his internal strength and inner peace (Roven, Thomas, Franco, &
Nolan, 2005).
Safe Space
Superhero lairs such as Superman’s fortress of solitude, forts and calming-down places
will provide an avenue to explore the concept of safe spaces. Children will be coached to
recognize when they are in need of a personal space break. Knowing when to take a break and
learning to self-soothe and self-regulate will improve the children’s ability to cope with stressful
situations and engage in a more positive mindset with peers and others. Identifying when it is a
good idea to seek support and how to ask for help will be part of the discussion and role play.
Some examples of safe spaces to reference from the superhero genre would include Superman’s
Fortress of Solitude, Batman’s Batcave and Ironman’s Stark Tower to name a few.
The six areas of focus just described will be utilized to define the art therapy intervention
groups, goals and structure. The intervention will incorporate strategies to build resiliency by: 1)
Assisting children to label feelings through images and words to describe feelings surrounding
the divorce, 2) Offering alternative perspectives to help reduce self-blaming, and 3) Encouraging
the exploration of new strategies and creative ways to manage stress and anxiety and to decrease
negative behaviours. These strategies, aimed at increasing resilience in the children, will assist
them to cope with the adverse effects resulting from the major life change of parental divorce,
which will allow them to function better in the classroom. By learning and practising skills of
empathy, acknowledging and managing stress, identifying when they need to seek help, solving
problems and identifying appropriate options for support, students will be better equipped to
manage stressors and to success at school. The successful completion of the goals defined by the
group will aim to improve the children’s self-esteem, help them manage anger and reduce stress
and anxiety, resulting in more capable students in the classroom environment.
A theme-centred group format is appropriate for this group because the participants will
be selected based on the common experiences resulting from parental separation. Successful
completion of the leader-driven art directives, which are defined and targeted to address the
outlined goals of the group, is intended to improve resiliency in the children at home, with peers
and in the classroom. Art directives will be selected or created to assist children to label feelings,
to express feelings through imagery and words, and to gain insight into the role of feelings and
how to incorporate them into everyday life in a healthy way. The alternative perspectives
provided by other group members will help to alleviate uncomfortable feelings around self-
blame. Learning new skills from other group members or leaders will help children manage the
potentially problematic transition in the early stages following parental separation. Educational
activities of the group will include imparting information to help students acquire new skills and
to create a new image of the future. Students will be encouraged to explore new strategies to
replace negative behaviours and creative ways to be productive and to manage stress and
The choice of a superhero-themed intervention is based on the popularity and appeal of
this genre, which provides a diverse pool of characters, struggles and scenarios to draw from.
The popularity of superheroes in popular culture continues to rise as DC and Marvel continue to
produce blockbusters on the silver screen. While characters such as Jessica Jones, Deadpool,
Ironfist and Dr. Strange appeal to adolescents and adults, DC’s LEGO superhero movies have
extended the reach to an even younger audience. Having such a wide array of characters to
choose from creates the possibility of customization of this program to service particular
demographics based on age. Release dates of superhero characters and films will be investigated
to determine appropriate themes for inclusion for the group demographic. Also, despite the
universal appeal of superheroes, efforts will be made to identify appropriate role models to be
included based on age and gender when appropriate.
Superhero stories demonstrate concepts such as hope, betrayal, justice, forgiveness,
loyalty and honour, which provide relevant discussion points to address and achieve the goals
outlined for the group. A common theme in superhero stories is the protagonist’s fatal flaw and
how the hero harnesses internal strengths to accommodate this deficit to overcome adversity.
This approach is in line with aspects of humanistic art therapy and will reflect the values and
core themes of the proposed intervention. Superheroes provide many relatable analogies to
introduce the key areas of focus, and directives will include multiple levels of superhero
references, art directives, terminology and visuals, which will provide an immersive experience
into the diverse and fantastic world of superheroes.
The Art Therapy Superhero Group will provide a nurturing supportive community for
children experiencing challenges resulting from parental separation; participants will have access
to mental health professionals trained to identify potential at-risk youth vulnerable to long-term
effects. To alleviate financial concerns and assist overburdened parents, I recommend that this
intervention be provided in schools, during school hours and free of cost to participants.
Although it was not part of the initial concept for this intervention, based on the research
reviewed, I see the need for a conjunctive parental program to improve outcomes for children.
Considerations for Group Population
Factors influencing the group demographics include gender, age, level of parental
conflict and time elapsed from parental separation, with consideration of onset of pre-separation
discord. Attachment Theory and Cognitive and Developmental Psychology will inform the
development of a clear understanding of the group population once the parameters of the group
are defined.
Irvin Yalom posed a theory that people learn and develop in the context of interpersonal
relationships (Yalom & Leszcz, 1990). It follows that individuals can gain insights about
themselves by examining their relationships with others. There is no better place than group
therapy for obtaining this sort of feedback in the here-and-now as desired by the humanistic lens.
The group context provides an awareness of the universality of experience: members feel less
negatively unique, less isolated, less alone (Yalom & Leszcz, 1990), which creates the
opportunity to improve resiliency in youth impacted by parental divorce.
Evidence-Based Protocols to Build Efficacy
In order to provide an evidence-based model for art therapy and its role in interventions
for children of divorce, I would solicit a triple perspective feedback model for children, parent/s
and teachers to track results. A web-based form would be utilized to create an easily accessible
feedback format ideal for busy families and educators. Evaluations will measure the child’s
baseline at the onset of the program, and the adjustment reported upon completion and at a 6-
months post follow up.
Chapter 4 - Intervention
The Children of Divorce Art Therapy Group is part of an art therapy prevention initiative
designed to improve resiliency that has been proposed to and accepted by the Toronto District
School Board (TDSB). The program is designed to be facilitated within the school day on school
property. The program will operate under the mental health services division. Students will be
referred to the program through the guidance department or by teachers and administrators.
Once a referral is made, administrators will provide an informed consent form to solicit approval
from the child’s parent or guardian. A student facilitator meeting will occur before the onset of
the group for the purpose of information sharing and to gain verbal consent from the child.
Although the following program is designed with a specific demographic in mind, grade five
boys, it is scalable to accommodate all ages of elementary school age children (K-8), with each
group to contain a span of no more than two grades at a time. The group will meet weekly for
one hour for 10 weeks. Week 1 and week 10 will be concerned with the therapeutic aspects of
opening and closing the group. The key aspects identified to improve outcomes for children of
divorce will provide the intentions for the weekly focus. Each week will target a specific aspect
with additional weeks dedicated to the significant emotional responses to the experience of
divorce on children, and in particular sadness, worries, guilt and anger. As identified by the
research, these key aspects include instilling hope, correcting misinformation and misdirected
blame, disengaging from conflict, improving temperament through managing loss and
depression, understanding origins of anger, and establishing a safe space. The breakdown of each
week will have the following format: 1) Opening activity and discussion 2) Main art directive
and reflection 3) Closing activity 4) Parting inspirational superhero quote. Starting with
children's’ strengths, conceptualized in the group as their superpowers, is in line with a
humanistic approach, and is intended to build resilience and improve transitions and outcomes
for children of divorce.
Week 1: Getting to Know Each Other: Define the Group
Introduce Superhero Theme and the Concept of Hope
Opening Activity: To begin the program I propose starting slowly to create an
environment that fosters the children’s sense of safety. To accomplish this, information about the
group will be provided to ease anxieties and to address the fact that most people do not have a
very clear understanding of what art therapy is all about. Discussions about art therapy and how
it differs from traditional art making are beneficial when working with any population and is of
particular importance when the group takes place during the school day at school. Alleviating
performance stressors around artistic abilities and dispelling concepts of grading or judgement
typical in this environment are imperative. After sharing some general information, I will take a
few minutes to break down how the group will work and establish some basic group rules, which
will evolve and grow over the course of the program. The rules will be called the Group Code of
Conduct which will be a poster-size document that will be visible each session. A superhero
preprinted booklet will be provided, and there will be a spot for participants to record the Group
Code of Conduct if desired.
The basic assumption of Gestalt therapy is that individuals can deal
effectively with their life problems. The central task of the
therapist is to help clients fully experience their being in the here-
and-now, by becoming aware of how they prevent themselves from
feeling and experiencing in the present (Rubin, 2012, Kindle
Locations 3310-3312).
The “can do attitude” embedded in the above description is a typical core characteristic of
superheroes and often fuels their pursuit of overcoming challenges. In order to access this
characteristic and implement therapeutic techniques, the group must establish itself as a safe
place to share and express difficult feelings. Establishing a robust framework provides group
containment and works to create a space where children may be vulnerable but can express
freely while feeling safe (Rubin, 2012). To achieve this robust framework a healthy group
structure with clear rules of conduct will be established. The group will follow a predictable
schedule, provide reliable and encouraging support, and practise group confidentiality, all of
which will contribute to building trust and rapport between group members and the art therapist.
Main Art Directive: Banish Your Inner Villain: A group discussion will be held about
the concept of inner critic versus inner coach. Following the discussion, children will then be
invited to create an image to represent their inner villain using a sheet of paper and some
crayons. Children will also be encouraged to find their inner hero, who is responsible for
banishing the inner villain. To access their inner hero, each child will create a series of positive
self-messages resulting in an affirmation-based incantation to be spoken aloud when performing
the banishment ritual as the image of their inner villain is sealed in a black envelope.
Intention: The purpose of this activity is to introduce the concept of self-talk and
recognize the difference between positive and negative self-talk (Alderson-Day & Fernyhough,
2015). To further illustrate this concept during reflection discussions, the Code of Conduct will
be presented as it relates to not just others but the child participant to encourage self-compassion.
Closing Activity: Children will be invited to take a traditional standing superhero pose,
hands on hips feet slightly parted firmly planted on the ground (Kingsley & Lynott, 2017).
Superhero Quote: Superman in the movie Man of Steel said, “You are stronger than you
think you are. Trust me” (Roven, Nolan, Thomas, Snyder & Snyder, 2013). Yet despite all his
strength, Superman was unable to save his adopted father, Jonathan Kent. Young Clark Kent in
the original motion picture Superman: The Movie (1978) said, “All those things I can do. All
those powers. And I couldn’t even save him” (Spengler & Donner, 1978).
Week 2: Understanding Changes in the Family
Correcting Misinformation and Misdirected Blame
Opening Activity: Children will be invited to reflect on the ideas from the previous week
around the inner villain. Following the reflections, to illustrate an example of misinformation and
misdirection, the scene from the movie Thor (Feige & Branagh, 2011) in which Loki (Thor’s
brother) lies to Thor will be presented to show the impact misinformation has on Thor’s ability to
function. Children will then explore through discussion the converse, that receiving
encouragement internally or externally can work to improve confidence and the ability to take
action. The group will then discuss aspects of blame and the realities in each individual’s family
dynamic. Participants will determine a phrase or word of self-encouragement and create a comic-
book style wordmark illustration like the iconic “pow” or “bang” common to superhero
animation and comic books.
Intention: The purpose of this activity is to demonstrate the link between what we think,
how we feel, and what we do, as illustrated when Loki provides false information and applies
misdirected blame to Thor, which is similar to the actions of the inner villain and negative self-
Main Art Directive: Realms and Realities. Children will be invited to create three
distinct realms. The first two will be created using a comic-book still frame and markers, and the
third tempera paint and an 11 x 17-inch sheet of cardstock. Version one represents the fantasy of
the perfect world/home for their superhero to thrive. Version two represents the alternative
universe ruled by villains and destruction. Before proceeding to the final step, children will be
encouraged to share the different realms. Version three represents reality including challenges
from the evil realm and aspects of hope from the fantasy realm.
Intention: Through this activity, children will have the opportunity to see the extremes of
the two realms. Also, by sharing with other group members and hearing their stories, participants
will be provided with an opportunity to view issues from the perspective of an outsider, which
works to take out personal feelings and exposes a clearer picture. The distance provided in group
sharing allows for an externalized perspective which provides a safe window for children to see
misinformation and misdirected blame. The facts that things are not always as they seem,
perspectives can be different, and intentions can change will be highlighted. The example of the
complicated friendship between Peter Parker and Harry Osborn, from the Spider-Man movies,
will be used to demonstrate struggles of loyalty between family, friends and love interests and
alliances with good and evil. Multiple perspectives surrounding this relationship will
demonstrate loyalties and conflicts from different points of view. In the movie Spider-Man, Peter
Parker kills his best friend’s father, Norman Osborn (aka The Green Goblin) who was once
good, and his mentor, but who then turns evil from his misdirected anger.
Closing Activity: Building on the previous week, children will take a superhero stanc,
close their eyes, breathe in deeply and imagine the breath filling their body, strengthening their
pose and extending their stature taller (Kingsley & Lynott, 2017).
Superhero Quote: Dr. Octopus in the movie Spider-Man 2 said, “Intelligence is a
privilege, and it needs to be used for the greater good of people” (Ziskin, Arad, & Raimi, 2004).
Week 3: Expressing Feelings Resulting from Changes in the Family
Loss and Sadness
Opening Activity: Scribble Drawing Exercise. Students will be invited to use simple
lines, shapes and colours to create a variety of images that represent different feelings.
Intention: Through this activity, children will acknowledge the big feelings associated
with divorce and bring the idea of expressing feelings through images into the room.
Main Art Directive: Smash It! Like the Hulk! and Rebuild It. In the Japanese tradition,
Kintsugi is a practice that honours the beauty in the broken. In this practice, broken pottery is
repaired using gold to create more precious art pieces than the originals. For safety reasons, used
pottery shards will not be used and instead, gingerbread will be used as “canvases” and gold-
coloured fondant to repair the broken pieces.
Intention: This activity will recognize the value of the reclaimed, recovered and
Closing Activity: Building on the previous week. Children will take a superhero stance,
taking deep breaths and standing tall. After three deep breaths, children will be invited to extend
their arms and reach for the sky (Kingsley & Lynott, 2017).
Superhero Quote: Iron Man in the movie Ironman 3: “You can take away my suits, you
can take away my home, but there’s one thing you can never take away from me. I am Iron Man”
(Feige & Black 2013).
Week 4: Coping with Changes: Instilling Hope
Managing Sadness, Positive Psychology, Building Self-Esteem for Resilience
Opening Activity: Imagine You Have Superpowers. Children will be invited to
imagine that they have superpowers, choose what they would like them to be and how they
would use them. Participants will brainstorm ideas as a group to create a list of superhero powers
and will then be encouraged to create an image of themselves as a superhero using their
superhero strengths.
Intention: To assist children discover their inner strengths, build confidence and self-
esteem. Resulting powers may be used as the foundation for their superhero character created in
later sessions.
Main Art Directive: Superhero Photo Shoot. Using sheets and clothing, children will
design as a group a life-sized backdrop of a skyline arranged on the floor. Some superhero
accessories such as masks and capes will be made available. Children will also be encouraged to
fashion a costume from available materials. Once the backdrop is completed and the children
have settled on their attire, they will take turns posing for a photo that mimics them flying by
having them lie down on the backdrop, striking a superhero flight pose. These photos may be
turned into magazine covers.
Intention: Roleplaying the ability to fly. Through acting or “the doing” kids increase
feelings and confidence in their abilities: “Through identification with superheroes and their
heroic quests, clients can venture beyond everyday constraints and the mundane to vicariously
act out alternate personality or interpersonal styles” (Rubin, 2007, p. 228).
Closing Activity: Follow previous weeks closing activity. The intention to “believe and
call upon inner strengths” will be added to the activity. Children will be invited to imagine they
can fly. It is suggested that children be asked to check in with their bodies to feel the energy
created when they imagine they can really fly (Kingsley & Lynott, 2017).
Superhero Quote: Uncle Ben to Peter Parker (Spider-man) in Spider-man the movie:
“With great power comes great responsibility” (Ziskin, Bryce, & Raimi, 2002).
Week 5: Define Superhero Personal Strengths
Humanistic Strength-Based Building Self-Esteem for Resilience
Opening Activity: Be an Everyday Superhero. Children will be provided with a comic
strip template to illustrate a story of an everyday hero. Children will be encouraged to reflect on
their lives and community, find something that isn’t working, figure out how to fix it, then take
action to do so. Prompts for this activity could include discussions on injustice, fairness and
vulnerability to convey the idea that superheroes take action when they feel something isn’t
Intention: To demonstrate that everyone can be a hero; superheroes are just ordinary
people doing extraordinary things.
Superhero Quote: “There’s a superhero in all of us. We just need the courage to put on
the cape” (Author unknown).
Main Art Directive: Building on the previous session that included a brainstorming
activity on superhero powers, children will be invited to review the lists they created to
determine what qualities their superhero will possess. Once the unique skills assigned to their
superhero are assigned, children will be given a separate sheet of paper to sketch out visual icons
to represent these powers. The icons will create a visual language of powers, which the children
will then combine to create a superhero logo that conveys information about their hero. The
process is captured in the following description from Leibmann (2006):
a) Develop your own symbol for use on a personal shield. (b)
Make up a strip cartoon using your own symbol. (c) Make a badge
for yourself to represent a quality of yours that you are proud of.
(d) Make up a symbol for a personal T-shirt. (e) Make up a slogan
to go with your symbol. (f) Make own coat of arms with a motto,
symbol, epitaph, etc. (p. 138)
Intention: Create a link between conveying information and visual representation to
strengthen the understanding of the symbolic nature of art therapy.
Closing Activity: Similar to previous weeks, children will begin the closing activity by
taking a superhero stance. They will be encouraged to take some strengthening breaths. Children
will be invited to close their eyes and imagine the power travelling through their bodies. The
next step will be to visualize that they are about to pounce into action and take flight from the
very spot where they are, standing taller and extending to their tippy toes, and feeling their heels
hovering just above the ground (Kingsley & Lynott, 2017).
Superhero Quote: In the movie The Justice League the Flash is just starting out as a
superhero and feels overwhelmed, and he doesn’t know quite how to help. Emphasizing that
sometimes the first step is the hardest, Superman encourages the Flash to take action during an
intense rescue scene: “Just start by saving one” (Affleck & Snyder, 2017).
Week 6: Develop Coping Skills to Deal with Family Changes
Develop Coping Skills to Disengage from Conflict. Develop Problem-Solving Skills
Opening Activity: Peace and Problem-Solving. Children will be encouraged to take a
moment to find their inner peace before tackling a problem by taking a superhero super break.
Children will be invited to place both feet on the floor, cross their arms and rest them on the table
to create a pillow for their head. The children will then be instructed to take a break from their
burdens, close their eyes and just breathe.
Superhero Statement for Peace: I wish for peace and calm to accept things I can’t
change, for bravery to change those that are within my powers, and the wisdom to know the
difference, adapted from the Serenity Prayer (Niebuhr, as cited in Tinsley, 1973).
Intention: To find a place of calm before problem-solving.
Main Art Directive: Children will be invited to practise problem-solving techniques by
identifying any problems they might be facing and writing them down. Next, children will be
asked to identify possible solutions to the problem. In order for solutions to be considered viable,
they must be assessed as safe, fair and realistic. Children will then be asked to review their list of
solutions and remove any that don’t meet all three of these requirements. If multiple solutions are
still viable, the children will be asked to create a pro-con list to work out the best solution and a
second-best backup plan. Once completed children will use a comic book template sheet to
illustrate the problem through to the desired solution.
Intention: To build problem-solving skills and to provide areas for children to assert
control and be part of the solution. Children will discover ways that problem-solving can be
beneficial. Problem-solving as a means to allow children to express feelings, show respect for
self and others will be highlighted and will provide a prevention model for children to use before
things go too far.
Closing Activity: Review and repeat the opening activity, take a superhero super break.
Superhero Quote: Dr. Erik Selvig in the movie Thor: “It’s not a bad thing finding out
that you don’t have all the answers. It gets you to start asking the right questions” (Feige &
Branagh, 2011).
Week 7: Understanding Anger and Learning How to Deal with Anger
Opening Activity: Participants will be asked to draw on their own alter-Hulk-ego.
Children will create an image to represent the angry monster that takes control when they “lose
your cool.” Oil pastels and coloured construction paper will be utilized to produce strong marks
and bold colours. Children will join a group discussion about anger as an instinctive action that
keeps people safe rather than being a “real” feeling, and anger will be described as being
triggered by a hurt feeling. Children will be asked to add scenarios to an anger scale to help them
recognize the feeling that came first. Participants will examine cues for anger (i.e., cry, face gets
hot, breathe faster, muscles tighten, headache).
Intention: To find alternative ways to express anger to normalize anger and to highlight
that no feelings are wrong; it is how people handle their feelings once things start to go wrong
that matters.
Main Art Directive: To look at the scope of anger from “that bugs me” to “full-on
Hulk” and discuss physical sensations experienced. Children will be asked to fold a piece of
paper organ style so that there is a hidden middle section and the left and right side of the page
still exposed. On this page children will be invited to create an anger scale with “not so mad” to
“full on Hulk.” Participants will first add words and images to represent different feelings and
physical sensations associated with each emotional state, and will then be asked to unfold the
sheet of paper exposing the blank middle section. In this space children will be instructed to
write or draw five things that could help create “space,” so that their “that bugged me” doesn’t
turn into “full-on Hulk.”
Intention: To normalize anger, to take space to avoid going full-on Hulk, and to examine
what’s behind anger.
Closing Activity: Children will gather as a group and discuss different ideas that they
came up with to provide themselves space. The group leader will select an appropriate idea to
practise as a group. (Anger Management. n.d.).
Superhero Quote: From the Movie Spider-Man 3, Peter Parker: “It’s the choices that
make us who we are” (Ziskin, Arad, Curtis, & Raimi, 2007).
Affirmation: Avoid going full-on Hulk by using positive affirmations. The following
affirmations are based on the recommendations from A Guide to Controlling Anger by Black,
Donald and Henderson (2005).
• Keep calm and superhero on.
• I have reign over my own feelings.
• I have all types of feelings. I can recognize them and express them.
• It’s okay to feel angry.
• I can learn how to express my anger before I go full-on Hulk.
• Anger does not have to have power over me.
• I control what I do with my anger.
• Hot thoughts keep me angry, cool thoughts calm me down.
• I don't need to hold on to anger; instead I find ways to let my anger go.
• I can enlist a trusty sidekick to talk with about my anger.
• I can take time to problem solve when I get upset.
• I can talk about my hurt feelings before they become angry feelings.
Week 8: Safe Haven
Identify Personal Limitations and When to Seek Extra Help. Enlist a Sidekick.
Opening Activity: Create a visualization of a Safe Haven or Peaceful Realm. Children
will be invited to imagine their very own Peaceful Realm. Children will be given full reign over
every aspect of this space and will be provided prompts to include all five senses. Children will
be encouraged to relax and pay attention to their breath, to close their eyes and to imagine their
Safe Haven in as much detail as they can. Children will be reminded that they can return to this
peaceful realm, this calm moment, and visit this safe haven any time they need to relax. A
connection will be created to video games that connect to the safe space and children will be
reminded that visiting the safe haven can provide a power boost or levelling up. It will be
emphasized that accessing this safe haven can be as easy as “switching the channel.”
Intention: To develop a coping skill to call upon when children are faced with intense
feelings or situations, and to provide the space they need to find their inner strength and peace to
tackle the issue at hand.
Main Art Directive: Children will be provided with a variety of art materials to create a
visual representation of their imagined safe haven from the opening creative visualization.
Children will be invited to come up with a name for their safe haven and write it as a title on the
back of their image. Once completed, children will be invited to share their realms with the
group. Children will join a discussion about what to do when things are too much to handle on
their own and will develop suggestions for a sidekick that they can enlist to assist. Participants
will be provided with handouts and will discuss fair fighting rules, conflict resolution techniques
and Kids Helpline information. Children will create a Want Ad for enlisting a sidekick
identifying characteristics that would be beneficial.
Intention: To further establish the concept of the Peaceful Realm by creating a visual
representation. To identify and discuss situations where escaping to a peaceful realm can be
helpful, to provide safety strategies and advice on how to go about enlisting support.
Closing Activity: Return to the creative visualization of the Peaceful Realms in our
minds and call upon details to enrich the visualization.
Superhero Advice: “Even Superheroes need a break.”
Week 9: Hope and Future Goals
Opening Activity: Recap the work from the previous weeks. Discuss strengths and limitations,
and review the coping skills to manage when feelings of sadness or anger occur. Identify what
steps to take when things get beyond participants’ abilities. Reflect on the idea of a superhero
break and how it provides space to problem solve so hurt feelings don’t turn into angry feelings
that lead to full-on hulk. Discussion will be guided toward wishes and goals for the future.
Intention: To review the skills acquired.
Main Art Directive: Using found objects collected by the group leader, create a “found
objects” sculpture of their superhero’s home, fort or lair.
Intention: Using old found objects to create a new home of their choosing that is
symbolic of the task of reconciling the aspects of the old family dynamic and home life with a
new vision.
Closing Activity: Children will be introduced to the activity of wish making with the
rationale that there are many ways to make a wish. Many of the rituals surrounding wish-making
add an element of magic and can include wishing upon a star, making a birthday wish when
blowing out candles, or placing wishes in a wishing wall, a Jewish tradition and holy practice in
Jerusalem. Children will be invited to create a wish and dreams list and identify some goals for
the future that are within their control. Participants will use strips of paper the size of fortune
cookie messages to write out wishes and goals and hide them in the sculpture similar to the
practice of using a wishing wall. Prompts, such as the following from Leibmann (2006) in Art
Therapy for Groups, may be used to stimulate ideas;
(a) A journey you would like. (b) Where I would like to be right
now. (c) Fantasy adventure in cartoon strip, including yourself. (d)
What would you do with $1 million? (e) What would you have
from a fantasy shop window? (f) What would you like to find in a
treasure chest? (g) What would you like to find in an attic (and put
in it)? (h) Your hero/heroine. (i) Illustrate an important hope and
fear. (j) A present you would like to receive (or give) and from
whom? (k) You are crossing a river. What is on the other side? (l)
You are a seed beginning to grow. What is the environment? (m)
Imagine a refuge which is a secure tranquil place. What is it like,
and who is with you? What are the stresses and strains you would
like to escape from? (p. 145)
Superhero Quote: Green Lantern in the movie Green Lantern: “No Matter how bad
things get, something good is out there, over the horizon” (Berlanti, De Line & Campbel, 2011).
Week 10: Saying Goodbye
Opening Activity: Children will be invited to create a display of the work produced in
the art therapy group. The children will take some time to reflect on their work and check in to
see if they have any insights to share after seeing all the pieces together and if they can identify
any patterns or themes. Group members will be invited to explore other children’s displays and
will be requested to share only positive aspects they enjoy about the work.
Intention: To bringing unconscious aspects of their experience and feelings surrounding
their family dynamic into awareness for contemplation or reflection (Rubin, 2012).
Main Art Directive: The children will paint a family portrait with their family as a team
of superheroes.
Intention: To place all family members as equals and as part of a team.
Closing Activity: Share elements that the group is comfortable with sharing with family
Superhero Quote: Gwen Stacy (Peter Parker’s girlfriend) in the movie The Amazing
Spider-Man 2, from the graduation speech (Arad & Webb, 2014):
It’s easy to feel hopeful on a beautiful day like today, but there will
be dark days ahead of us too. There will be days wh[en] you feel
all alone, and that’s when hope is needed most. No matter how
buried it gets, or how lost you feel, you must promise me that you
will hold on to hope. Keep it alive. We have to be greater than
what we suffer. My wish for you is to become hope; people need
that. And even if we fail, what better way is there to live? As we
look around here today, at all of the people who helped make us
who we are, I know it feels like we’re saying goodbye, but we will
carry a piece of each other into everything that we do next, to
remind us of who we are, and who we are meant to be.
The therapeutic framework outlined above provides a safe, contained space to explore
feelings experienced by children surrounding parental separation and divorce, builds an
awareness of internal sensations or cues and teaches coping skills that can be used to manage
stressful situations and issues commonly associated with children of divorce such as depression,
anger, and anxiety. Using the theme of Superheroes as a metaphor provides a relatable subject,
accessible to all ages, with an abundance of references to draw upon. By teaching and practising
empathy skills, helping students acknowledge and manage stress, teaching problem solving,
helping participants identify when they need to seek help and identifying appropriate options for
support, the leader can help students be better equipped to manage stressors. It is my hope that
completion of this program will provide an easier transition for children resulting in a more
positive experience at home and in the classroom. “Art therapy can offer students the opportunity
to work through obstacles that may be impeding their educational success while facilitating
appropriate social behaviour and promote healthy affective development so students can become
more receptive to their educational environment” (Lackie, as cited in AATA, 2011, p. 1). The art
directives that make up this program have been created or adapted to accomplish specific tasks
designed to enhance self-regulation and competency, reduce anxiety and depression, manage
anger and foster a sense of community. Alternative perspectives provided by other group
members can help alleviate the uncomfortable feelings around self-blaming. Learning new skills
from other group members or leaders helps children manage the difficult transition presented in
the early stages of change resulting from parental separation. The expected benefits outlined
above fit with the observations of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) (2011) in the
brochure, Gain Important Education Outcomes: Implement a Successful Art Therapy Program
within K-12 Schools: “Art therapy is utilized in a wide array of settings to promote well-being,
socialization, communication, and healing; ease stress, pain, and loss; improve cognitive and
motor skills; and empower through life’s transitions( p. 1).
Suggestions for Future Research
To determine the effectiveness of the group art therapy model proposed, the program will
need to be researched and evaluated. To improve aspects of the proposed program and to build
efficacy, multiple perspective feedback evaluations will be provided to students, teachers and
parents at several intervals: pre-group, post-group and 6 months post-group. Also, a post-mortem
performance review will be part of the closing activities for the group facilitators. Facilitators are
encouraged to reflect on their experience by reviewing the following aspects identified by
Leibmann (2006), in Art Therapy for Groups:
Were any of these positive qualities present: good feelings,
enjoyment, commitment, energy, co-operation, sharing? Were
there any negative feelings, and if so, were they adequately dealt
with? Was there any “unfinished business,” and if so, how could it
be dealt with? How did the co-leaders work together? What did
group members get out of it? Do they want to continue working in
this way? (p. 31)
To conclude, the research presented indicated a need for support during familial
transition during high-conflict home life, parental divorce and separation. Interventions were
designed to ease the experience for children to improve outcomes; identifying the small
population of youth that experience more negative and long-term effects would be beneficial. My
motivation in choosing this topic was not, as many might think, the result of my own experience
of parenting through a high-conflict separation and divorce, although I’m sure it added to my
guilt-fuelled curiosity. The reason I needed to pursue this research was in reaction to the tragic
news that the daughter of a friend committed suicide at age 15 and depression around her
parents’ divorce was a significant factor. I received the news in my graduate school classroom. I
was devastated for her family and teary throughout the evening. I felt an unbelievable drive to
help. During the coursework that evening one of my instructors mentioned choosing a topic for
our thesis; it was at that moment that the direction and focus of my thesis picked me.
I intend to distribute the findings and resulting protocol freely, through open access, in an
effort to improve resiliency in children of divorce and ease their struggles during this challenging
time. I am so grateful to the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) for seeing my vision and
approving the art therapy prevention initiatives designed to improve resiliency; the children of
divorce art therapy protocol will be implemented commencing fall 2018.
The following is quoted from the article “Wake Up Parents, You Could Lose Your Teen
to Suicide” by Chris Coulter, Maddie’s dad:
Divorce affects your kids: I’m not saying to stay together for the
sake of your kids but certainly keep it civil for the sake of the kids
[and] make sure you’ve exhausted all resources before you decide
to go down this road. Divorce isn't easy on the parents but it’s even
more difficult on the kids. They had no choice in the process and
are impacted more than anyone else. Two homes, two routines,
packing up and moving every week is not fun for them. Most
divorces are incredibly emotional. Things get overheard or even
worse when kids are told of details that they should be insulated
from. If a divorce is inevitable then put your kids’ emotional well
being ahead of your own. (Coulter, 2016)
Shine Bright ( was founded in loving memory of
Madeline Grace German Coulter, June 28, 2000 - April 11, 2015. The Maddie Project is a
community effort to support youth struggling with depression and other mental-health-related
concerns. Please visit their website to learn more or to make a donation.
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Full-text available
This paper considers resilience as a dynamic concept by looking at risk and protective factors for children of divorce in British-Indian Hindu and Sikh families using Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model for human development. The paper draws from a qualitative study which is based on data collected on experiences of twenty-one British-Indian Adult Children of Divorce to illustrate risk and protective factors within cultural ideology, community and macro contexts. The paper concludes that resilience in individuals and communities needs to be considered as a process that is influenced by the interaction of the ecological systems. Risk and protective factors cannot be categorically identified and dynamic processes need to be acknowledged within particular contexts. This is particularly important for practitioners working with minority ethnic children and families towards understanding diversity of experiences and perspectives within minority cultures.
Full-text available
Previous research has documented that children who do not live with both biological parents fare somewhat worse on a variety of outcomes than those who do. In this article, which is the introduction to the Special Issue on “Family dynamics and children’s well-being and life chances in Europe,” we refine this picture by identifying variation in this conclusion depending on the family transitions and subpopulations studied. We start by discussing the general evidence accumulated for parental separation and ask whether the same picture emerges from research on other family transitions and structures. Subsequently, we review studies that have aimed to deal with endogeneity and discuss whether issues of causality challenge the general picture of family transitions lowering child well-being. Finally, we discuss whether previous evidence finds effects of family transitions on child outcomes to differ between children from different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, and across countries and time-periods studied. Each of the subsequent articles in this Special Issue contributes to these issues. Two articles provide evidence on how several less often studied family forms relate to child outcomes in the European context. Two other articles in this Special Issue contribute by resolving several key questions in research on variation in the consequences of parental separation by socioeconomic and immigrant background, two areas of research that have produced conflicting results so far.
Full-text available
Compiled in this Special Section are recommendations from multiple experts on how to maximize resilience among children at risk for maladjustment. Contributors delineated processes with relatively strong effects and modifiable by behavioral interventions. Commonly highlighted was fostering the well-being of caregivers via regular support, reduction of maltreatment while promoting positive parenting, and strengthening emotional self-regulation of caregivers and children. In future work, there must be more attention to developing and testing interventions within real-world settings (not just in laboratories) and to ensuring feasibility in procedures, costs, and assessments involved. Such movement will require shifts in funding priorities—currently focused largely on biological processes—toward maximizing the benefits from large-scale, empirically supported intervention programs for today's at-risk youth and families.
It is well established in literature that hope is an important psychological strength associated with resilience and overall psychological well-being. Early research also indicates that both posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety have a negative relationship with hope. To better understand the potential mechanisms of the relationship between childhood trauma, PTSD, anxiety, and hope, we conducted a cross-sectional study of homeless individuals residing in the south central United States (N = 180). The study measured individual differences in the experience of childhood trauma, PTSD symptoms, anxiety, and hope. Based on the hope theory by C.R. Snyder, we hypothesized that PTSD has a negative relationship with hope because trauma memories can be “attention robbers” that take one’s focus off developing pathways toward future goals. The result is greater anxiety and lower hope. To test this theory, covariance-based structural equation modeling was used to evaluate a model of the variables in the sequential order as follows: (a) adverse childhood experiences, (b) PTSD symptoms, (c) increased anxiety, and (d) lower hope. The results indicated that the observed data produced a “good fit” to a model based on Snyder’s theory (χ2 = 419.38; df = 247; p = < 001; root mean square error of approximation = .06 [90% confidence interval: .05, .07]; comparative fit index = .93; standardized root mean square residual = .06). Such a result suggests that future research is needed with survivors of childhood trauma to further explore mechanisms, such as “attention robbing,” that may link PTSD to greater anxiety and less hope.
The current review synthesized studies investigating the relationships between resilience and Big Five personality traits and aimed to investigate how the relationships vary according to the two types of resiliency, psychological resilience and ego-resiliency. Thirty studies with a total sample size of 15,609 met the inclusion criteria to be used for the current meta-analysis. Results indicated that overall, estimated average correlation coefficients for resilience were: r = −0.46 with Neuroticism, r = 0.42 for Extraversion, r = 0.34 for Openness, r = 0.31 for Agreeableness, and r = 0.42 for Conscientiousness. When comparing the differences between the two types of resiliency, a stronger negative relationship with Neuroticism, and stronger positive relationships with Openness and Agreeableness were obtained with ego-resiliency, compared with trait resilience. However, there was a lack of homogeneity in effect sizes across studies especially for ego-resilience. Directions for future research regarding resilience and the limitations of present research are discussed.
This book first appeared in 1970 and has gone into two further editions, one in 1975 and this one in 1985. Yalom is also the author of Existential Psychotherapy (1980), In-patient Group Psychotherapy (1983), the co-author with Lieberman of Encounter Groups: First Facts (1973) and with Elkin of Every Day Gets a Little Closer: A Twice-Told Therapy (1974) (which recounts the course of therapy from the patient's and the therapist's viewpoint). The present book is the central work of the set and seems to me the most substantial. It is also one of the most readable of his works because of its straightforward style and the liberal use of clinical examples.
Four Approaches to Counselling and Psychotherapy provides an essential introduction to and overview of the main models of psychotherapy and counselling. With a new preface from Windy Dryden, this Classic Edition traces the development of counselling and psychotherapy, and examines the relationship between the two. The authors consider the four main models - psychodynamic, humanistic, integrative and cognitive-behavioural - before focusing on the most popular approach for each, including person-centred, rational emotive behavioural, and multimodal. Each approach is clearly examined in terms of its historical context and development, its main theoretical concepts and its aims. Written clearly and concisely, the book will have international appeal as an ideal introductory text for all those embarking on psychotherapy and counselling courses. It will also prove invaluable to students requiring a clear introduction to the subject.
This book focuses on parental commitment to family life after divorce, in contrast to its common perception as an irrevocable breaking up of the family unit, which is often perpetuated by representations from popular culture and the media. In the first detailed review of emotions and emotion work undertaken by divorced parents, the author sheds light on how parents manage feelings of guilt, fear, on-going anger and everyday unhappiness in the course of family life post-divorce. Moore demonstrates how the emotional dimension of divorce is shaped by societal and structural factors and requires parents to undertake considerable emotion work in the creation of new moral identities. The book points to the often gendered responsibilities for sustaining family lives post separation, and how these reflect extensive inequalities in family practices. The author concludes that divorce is not dangerous for society; it is not a social evil or a demonstration of the rise of selfish individualism, and that divorcees remain committed to former partners and children long after divorce. This book will be of interest to scholars and students in the areas of Sociology, Psychology, Family Studies, Social Policy, Social Work and Law.