Title

Role of Meaning Making in the Association between Multiple Interpersonal Traumas and Post-Traumatic Adaptation

Date of Award

2009

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Psychology/Clinical

First Advisor

Valerie Simon

Second Advisor

Eric Dubow (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

John Tisak (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Eric Myers (Committee Member)

Abstract

Research has consistently shown that greater numbers of interpersonal traumas are associated with more serious mental health problems, yet we have a limited understanding of why there is significant variation in the severity and types of post-traumatic difficulties endorsed by victims of multiple interpersonal traumas. The current study examined the role of meaning making of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) in the association between multiple interpersonal traumas and post-traumatic adaptation. One hundred and four participants with confirmed histories of CSA concurrently reported on lifetime experiences of seven different types of interpersonal traumas, completed a sexual abuse meaning making interview, and completed questionnaires assessing different indicators of post-traumatic adaptation. Narrative analysis was used to categorize youth as using either a constructive meaning making approach or one of two non-constructive meaning making approaches (i.e., absorption or avoidance). The vast majority of these youth reported additional experiences of interpersonal trauma, and correlational analyses revealed that greater numbers of interpersonal traumas were associated with more internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Structural equation modeling was used to assess whether constructive versus non-constructive meaning making mediated and/or moderated the relationship between the number of interpersonal traumas and post-traumatic adaptation. Results supported a moderation model. Greater experiences of interpersonal trauma were associated with greater difficulties in post-traumatic adaptation for youth who approached meaning making in a non-constructive manner. In contrast, there was no association between multiple experiences of interpersonal trauma and difficulties in post-traumatic adaptation for youth who approached meaning making in a constructive manner. Path analysis was used to examine whether absorbed and avoidant meaning making moderated the relationship between the number of interpersonal traumas and different types of mental health problems (i.e., internalizing and externalizing symptoms). There was insufficient evidence to show that the relationship between multiple interpersonal traumas and both internalizing and externalizing symptoms vary according to the type of non-constructive meaning making victims use. Results of the current study suggest that the manner in which youth approach meaning making of CSA has implications for the relationship between multiple interpersonal traumas and post-traumatic adaptation.