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Claiming your connections: a psychosocial group intervention study of black college women.

The emergent psychosocial competence practice model in mental health represents an innovative strengths-based paradigm with potential relevance and applicability to black college women struggling with problems of psychological and social adjustment. Using an experimental design, with pre- and posttest measures, this study investigated the effectiveness of a culturally congruent group intervention program called "Claiming Your Connections," involving 76 undergraduate black college women, aimed at enhancing psychosocial competence (that is, locus of control, active coping, and stress reduction). Counseling implications and directions for the development of future culturally relevant practice interventions with this population are discussed.

KEY WORDS: black college women; group work; practice research; psychosocial competence


For many students, attending college involves a period of adjustment and adaptation that requires them to navigate developmental tasks, focusing on emotional adjustment, interpersonal relationships, and academic concerns (Adan & Felner, 1995; Solberg & Villarreal, 1997; Tomlinson-Clarke, 1998). Black college students at predominately white institutions typically encounter similar developmental tasks; they also may experience additional stressful events in their daily lives, such as racial discrimination and feelings of isolation caused by racial exclusion (Jay & D'Augelli, 1991; Jenkins, 2002). Black women in particular report feelings of alienation, questions of racial and gender identity, concern for interpersonal relationships, and stress (Brown, 2000). These distinct challenges add a layer of complexity to the psychological and social adjustment of black female college students. Unfortunately, traditional college mental health approaches have overlooked the psychosocial realities of black women in the United States (Rhodes & Johnson, 1997; Wingo, 2001). The field of college mental health is faced with the critical task of providing culturally congruent programs that meet the complex psychological needs of black women (Clairborn, LaFromboise, & Pomales, 1986; Shonfeld-Ringel, 2000).

The current literature suggests that to enhance mental health treatment outcomes for black college women, programs must be culturally congruent and include ancillary services that are more helpful than standard college counseling programs. The "Claiming Your Connections: Life Affirming Strategies for Women of Color" (CYC) culturally congruent group intervention serves this need (Jones, 2004). The culturally congruent nature of the intervention protocol is based on treatment techniques that both directly and indirectly address specific aspects of black women's psychosocial experiences in the United States (Belgrave, Chase-Vaughn, Gray, Addison, & Cherry, 2000; McNair, 1996; Miranda et al., 2003; Randall, 1994). For instance, cultural congruence in this study refers to the integration of cultural attitudes, beliefs, and values of black women into the intervention and the continuous promotion of skills, practices, and interactions throughout the group process to ensure that sessions are culturally responsive and competent.

The CYC group intervention includes the strengths perspective of psychosocial competence that calls attention to the positive resources (that is, skills, abilities, and knowledge) that help people cope with stressful events, as well as those that contribute to goal achievement and psychological well-being. This framework is offered as an alternative to traditional views of human functioning that identify psychological and social deficiencies as the cause for adjustment issues among black women in college. Although psychosocial competence is at the forefront, an Africentric paradigm provides a contextual framework for understanding and addressing the psychological and social adjustment difficulties of black college students. The Africentric paradigm centers on the uniqueness of the black experience in the United States and provides a framework for interpreting psychological and social functioning (Akbar, 1991; Asante, 1987; Baldwin, 1986; Nobles, 1986).Both the emergent psychosocial competence practice model and the Africentric paradigm may provide an ideal framework for understanding and interpreting the psychological functioning of black college students struggling with psychological and social adjustment.

The purpose of this investigation was to examine the efficacy of the CYC intervention for black college women who self-identified as having psychological and social adjustment issues in college and having difficulty managing stressors of daily life. This study was aimed at reducing perceived stress and enhancing the self and behavioral attribute dimensions of psychosocial competence (that is, locus of control and active coping) among black college women.


Black college women face personal, social, academic, and vocational concerns unique to them as students on predominately white campuses (McPhee, 1990). Much of the research on black students on predominately white campuses indicates that black students often encounter difficulty in social, academic, and psychological adjustment (Davis, 1995; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). Most often these difficulties are accompanied by the pressure of intense scrutiny, discriminatory standards of accountability, and the conflict of a comforting but demanding subculture that inevitably generates stress (Constantine, Wilton, & Caldwell, 2003). For example, Bell and Nkomo (2001) examined the educational experiences of black women and found that they often had their intelligence questioned and their ideas discounted while at predominately white colleges and universities. The study also showed that black women report believing that they were held to different standards than their white peers and that they had to outperform their white peers to receive the same grades. Sedlacek (1989) found that a key social adjustment for many black students on predominately white campuses is developing the ability to recognize and deal effectively with their oppressive realities as they occur. Fleming (1983) asserted that stressors associated with "perceived racism" act to depress feelings of competence in black college women; for instance, they fear asserting themselves in social situations, set lower goals, experience more anxiety during competition, and express more dissatisfaction with their performance. Students who experience high levels of psychological distress may pursue college mental health services as a viable means of addressing their concerns (for example, Bonner, 1997; Constantine & Arorash, 2001; Gloria, Hird, & Navarro, 2001). However, the literature indicates that black college students may avoid accessing formal mental health resources, such as college or university counseling centers (Anderson & Cranston-Gingers, 1991). Factors that often contribute to this avoidance of services for many black college students may include the following: a general mistrust of mental health professionals, cultural barriers, socioeconomic factors, and primary reliance on family and the religious community during times of distress (Lawson, Helper, Holladay, & Cuffel, 1994; Neighbors, 1997).

One consistently highlighted shortcoming is that counseling frameworks are culturally inappropriate or inadequate to meet the specific needs of black female college students (Atkinson, Morten, & Sue, 1998; Chiang, Hunter, & Yeh, 2004; Thorn & Sarata, 1998). Psychosocial competence (that is, locus of control, coping, self-efficacy, and trust) has garnered significant attention in college mental health as a construct central to improved models for understanding and enhancing the psychological well-being of black women (Jones, 2004; Tyler, Brome, & Williams, 1991; Zea & Jarama, 1995). Psychosocial competence has been identified as an individual's belief in his or her ability to control outcomes, belief in the world as a predictable place, and corresponding behavioral tendency to engage in active coping (Maluccio, Washitz, & Libassi, 1999; Tyler et al., 1991).

Tyler's Psychosocial Competence Model

Tyler (1978) has developed a model of psychosocial competence that builds on earlier definitions of this construct (see Sundberg, Snowden, & Reynolds, 1978). Tyler's (1978) psychosocial competence model focuses on an individual's self-attitudes and behavioral attributes of human functioning. These are personal characteristics that, in a coordinated fashion, underlie more or less competent functioning. Tyler (1978) further posited that patterns of psychosocial competence may differ depending on varying ecological characteristics (for example, a person's gender, race, culture, ethnicity). The variable locus of control of the self-attitudes dimension, combined with the behavioral attribute of active coping, constitutes the psychosocial competence construct used in this study.

Locus of control is a self-attitude attribute that can be conceptualized as the extent to which people believe they are causally important in their own lives. It is based on and measured in terms of the degree of expectancy that one's efforts to shape life's outcomes will be reinforced (Rotter, 1975).According to expectancy theory, people engage in the kinds of behaviors they believe are most likely to produce desired and highly valued outcomes (Rotter, 1975). The locus of control construct is assumed to be a continuous variable ranging from an internal to an external stance. According to Rotter's (1975) internal locus of control construct, this refers to the belief in personal control and responsibility for one's own life and a generalized expectancy that one's actions will be positively reinforced. An external locus of control refers to the belief that the responsibility for and control over one's life resides largely with fate, luck, chance, or powerful others and that, therefore, it is relatively not beneficial to exert personal effort in the service of goals or in their actualization (Rotter, 1966). The locus of control construct operates among people in such a way that more psychologically competent individuals think of themselves as valuable, as effective agents in their fives, as causally important people, and as responsible for shaping the outcome of events (Rotter, 1966, 1975). In contrast, less competent individuals do not see themselves as being particularly valuable, important, or responsible in effecting the outcome of events.

Behavioral attributes are constructed as part of a configuration of skills and approaches that people use to engage with life (Tyler et al., 1991). Behavioral attributes are the processes through which individuals interact with events (including themselves) in their life spaces. These behavioral attributes of mastery and competence include the enhancement of one's capacity to manage oneself, events, and relations with others; the capacity to create and realize new possibilities; and the ability to protect against, contend with, and recover from threats, failures, and losses (Tyler, 1978). Thus, this major behavioral dimension of individual psychosocial competence constitutes a coping orientation on a continuum ranging from active planfulness to passivity or defensiveness in its inclusion of mastery, maintenance, and protective activities (Tyler, 1991). Tyler (1978) described the "competent person [as] characterized by an active coping orientation; high initiative, realistic goal setting; substantial planning, forbearance, and effort in the service of attaining goals; and a capacity for enjoying success, suffering failure, and building from both" (p. 313). This conception of psychosocial competence describes a fully developed process through which individuals interact with their psychosocial environments.

Africentric Paradigm

In congruence with psychosocial competence, the Africentric worldview also emphasizes concepts of actual or potential strengths, meaningful connection to others, and reliance on natural community supports. Social work practice with black Americans is enhanced through the knowledge and understanding of the cultural concepts in an Africentric perspective. Africentricity is derived from the specific experiences and cultural perspectives of black Americans and can be used to formulate new models of counseling interventions (Schiele, 1997).

The Africentric worldview comprises beliefs, values, philosophical orientations, and ways of understanding and interacting with the world from the black perspective (Nobles, 1986). The Africentric worldview has been described by Beckett and Lee (2004) as one that promotes the view that "individuals and groups have strengths that can be enhanced; that individual problems are often structural in origin; that differences between individuals and groups are assumed and accepted; and that collective identity supersedes the individual" (p. 103). Although there is a great deal of variability among black people in the United States, adherence to this worldview is believed to be widespread among black people throughout the African diaspora (Akbar, 1991). Several assumptions have been outlined regarding the cultural orientation of black Americans that support the rationale for using this conceptual framework as the basis for developing and implementing social and mental health services for black people (Asante, 1987; Baldwin, 1986). Asante (1987) suggested that black people are fundamentally an African people within an African-based ontological belief system. African ontology is communal, meaning that individuals find their worth and define their existence in relation to community and harmony with nature. This Africentric ontology seeks to harmonize with those forces that appear external to the individual but are, in fact, simply expressions of the individual's potential and adaptive behavioral patterns. An example of this ontology can be found in the importance of collective identity and responsibility among black women. Historically, as a strength, black women have used community and individual supports, such as groups, to combat negative stereotypes and to gather in a supportive atmosphere to discuss their impact and explore problem solving about adapting to oppressive environments (Boyd-Franklin, 1991; Francis-Spence, 1994; Leashore, 1995; Lewis & Suarez, 1995). A social worker's support and acknowledgment of the value of community validates a client's ability to survive in a hostile and difficult environment, which reinforces the Africentric ontology. This ontology has particular resonance with the self-attitude and behavioral attribute dimensions of psychosocial competence. For this reason, psychosocial competence and the Africentric perspective may be a particularly useful starting framework for conceptualization of an intervention to develop the skills needed to assist in the psychological and social adjustment of black female college students.


Black college students typically encounter similar developmental tasks as their white counterparts; they also experience additional stressors in their psychosocial adjustment. These developmental stressors are said to be indications of a crisis in psychosocial adjustment symptomatic of a more serious identity crisis (Cooper, Mahler, & Whitt, 1994; Lefcourt, Martin, & Saleh, 1984).Thus, the college years for black, female college students provide a uniquely appropriate developmental period to promote a healthy sense ofpsychosocial adjustment by intervening to reduce stress and enhance outcomes of psychosocial competence (that is, external locus of control and active coping).

Psychosocial competence has garnered significant application to the planning and delivery of interventions for individuals with mental health concerns, such as issues of adjustment. Although there is a paucity of intervention research in the area of psychosocial competence and black college women, the few outcome studies have been found to predict low levels of psychological distress, high academic performance, and positive adaptation to college among ethnic minority students (Otero, Tyler, & Labarta, 1986; Tyler, Dhawan, & Sinha, 1988).

Research has focused on cognitive and behavioral variables that may contribute to the development of a healthy sense of competence and even predict a student's success in college (Bandura, 1977; Sedlacek, 1987; Tracey & Sadlacek, 1989; Tyler, 1991). Kenny and Rice (1995) have noted that during the stressful process of adjusting to college, students may benefit from both internal and external resources that assist them in coping. Some research evidence suggests that African American students use specific coping strategies (Cooper et al., 1994; Fleming, 1981), including mental distraction or avoidance, social support from peers and family, and spiritual activities. Lefcourt et al. (1984) tested the effects of social support and locus of control as moderators of stress and coping. The key benefit found in this study was the interaction with peers in an environment in which problem-solving and coping skills could be developed to manage symptoms of stress. Cooper et al. (1994) further noted that black students engage in coping behaviors that are indigenous to the African American value system; they are more likely to have favorable stress-related outcomes. These findings suggest that interventions aimed at enhancing black women's sense of psychosocial competence during times of stress and adversity or when confronted with less predictable environmental situations may promote a more optimal pattern of psychosocial functioning.

Having encountered a number of black college women struggling with issues of adjustment, and being aware of their limited opportunities to engage in culturally congruent interventions, I developed the CYC program to promote positive psychosocial outcomes and decrease stress symptoms. The CYC group intervention hones in on the outcomes of decreasing external locus of control and increasing active coping from a culturally congruent perspective on the basis of the needs and experiences of black women. In the spirit of mutual aid, the outcomes of psychosocial competence are achieved in the CYC group intervention program by first, providing members with an opportunity for self-exploration; second, providing members with the opportunity to acknowledge and validate both their current and their historical realities of unrecognized or devalued relationships, denigration of success, and undue destructive criticism of normative difficulties from the perspective of black women's experience; third, assisting members to identify unhealthy coping patterns; and fourth, teaching problem-solving and coping skills that promote an active stance of personal control and responsibility over their life goals and outcomes (see Jones, 2004, for a detailed model description).

Psychosocial competence enhancement is particularly relevant when working with black college women, given that their adjustment difficulties are often related to feelings of isolation, feelings of loss of control, and an inability to cope with life circumstances. Sullivan (1992) posited that intervention strategies developed specifically to address personal capacities and skills, whether they are cognitive (as in consciousness raising) or behavioral (as in skills training), may lead to psychosocial competence development among black women.



This study used an experimental design composed of an intervention and a comparison group with pre- and posttest measures at four colleges in the northeastern United States.


Black female college students between the ages of 17 and 24 were recruited through the use of flyers and mailings from four colleges in the northeastern United States. Twenty women were selected to participate in either the intervention or the comparison group at each of the four study sites. Special attempts were made to collaborate with black student organizations and student affairs departments in an effort to establish relationships and orient them to the research project. "Black" in this study is used as a designation to include individuals who self-identified as African American, Caribbean, Latina, African, or other black.

Study Procedures

A subject pool of 98 was created, consisting of individuals who confirmed their interest in participating by calling a given number or by postcard response. The criteria for participation in the study were that individuals identify themselves as black, undergraduate college women, between the ages of 17 and 24 who self-identify as having difficulties adjusting to college life and having difficulty coping with stressors of daily living (that is, poverty, racism, discrimination, sexism, and lack of access to supports and resources). Women were excluded if they did not meet the study criteria.

Participation in the 10-week psychoeducational group was voluntary and free. Prospective participants were provided with detailed information regarding the nature of the intervention and the randomization process. Participants were randomly assigned to CYC or a comparison group at each of the four study sites. Randomization was conducted by assigning alternating names in the sampling pool for each site to the intervention or comparison group. The first 20 women selected at each of the sites were enrolled in the study. Although there is no optimal size for a group, the size for of each intervention group (n = 10) was determined on the basis of the group's purpose, to foster cohesion, to give members greater opportunities for participation and to take on leadership roles, and to meet the comfort level of the group facilitators. It has been posited that the smaller a group, the more demands it places on its members for involvement and intimacy (for a detailed discussion on groups size, see Gitterman & Schulman, 2005; Reid, 1997; Yalom, 1995). Before the beginning of data collection, four participants declined involvement (one for the intervention group and three for the comparison group), stating personal reasons, despite an attempt to make individual arrangements for those in the comparison group for pre- and posttest completion.

The principal investigator and two black female graduate students administered the pre- and posttest instruments. The pre- and posttest questionnaires were administered in a group format at each of the four sites, for both the intervention and the comparison group participants. Participants were paid $20 for agreeing to complete both the pre- and posttest survey instruments. Individual arrangements were made with participants who were unable to come to the group administering session. Following the pretest, participants who had been assigned to the intervention group received a listing of scheduled group sessions for the 10-week period, including a wrap-up session in which participants were post-tested. The comparison group participants received the date and time of the posttest at the end of 10 weeks. The time for completion of the pre- and post-test questionnaire was approximately 30 minutes.

Group Facilitators

Group sessions were led by black licensed professional women and black female social work and psychology graduate students trained in group counseling. The principal investigator, due to cost constraints and the need to ensure consistency, co-facilitated all of the group interventions. All group facilitators received eight hours of training concerning the purpose of the study, the intervention model, cultural congruence in regard to the Africentric perspective, and the proper use of instruments.

Intervention Condition

The CYC group intervention consisted of 10 weekly, 90-minute sessions. The CYC intervention is a culturally congruent manualized protocol for stress symptom alleviation that uses a psychosocial competence framework to enhance women's sense of mastery over their life outcomes and goals and to increase their coping capacities. These goals are achieved by exploring psychological and social difficulties in relation to being "black" and a "woman" in the United States. Structured and didactic methods based on black women's psychosocial needs and experiences are integrated into each session to make the manual culturally congruent. These methods include attention to ethnic and gender homogeneity, the use of ethnic matching among participants and facilitator, a focus on themes related to black women's social and psychological development, a termination ritual at the end of the 10-week intervention, and the use of literary works by black authors to illustrate concepts. This approach is consistent with recent strategies to reduce stress-related symptoms (Miranda et al., 2003; Napholz, 2005) and promote optimal psychosocial functioning (that is, locus of control and coping) among black women (Belgrave et al., 2000; Jones, 2004). For example, the session on "Reconciliation of the Soul" is aimed at decreasing external locus of control by assisting black women in sorting out perceived personal debilitating forces that hinder them from goal achievement. A portion of this session focuses on readings and activities related to the concept of psychological recovery and forgiveness as a means of restoring internal peace. Group members spend time discussing culturally specific issues that often cause them despair and bitterness in their school, work, and community lives. Forgiveness is explored from the black women's historical role as caretakers of white slave owners' children. There is a discussion about the fact that even in the midst of great suffering, under slavery, black women were compassionate and forgiving. Facilitators provide examples of how black women provided for the "masters'" children with the same love, care, and comfort that they provided their own children. Lastly, the group engages in identification of constructive forms of thinking and coping to apply to their daily lives.


The questionnaire consisted of the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) (S. Cohen, Kamarck, & Mermelstein, 1983), the Internal-External Locus of Control Scale (RIE) (Rotter, 1966), and the Behavioral Attributes of Psychosocial Competence Scale--Condensed Form (BAPC-C) (Tyler, 1978). In addition, the pretest instrument included self-reported demographic data on age, ethnicity, college class, work/number of hours worked per week, and socioeconomic status. Age was captured from date of birth; ethnicity was captured through self-identified ethnic or racial background; college class was determined by university or college designated class level; and current counseling was based on self-report of participation in individual or group counseling, therapy, or treatment over the past six months.

The PSS (S. Cohen et al., 1983) was designed to measure the degree to which situations in a person's life are appraised as stressful. The 14 PSS items (for example, "In the last month, how often did you feel unable to control important things?") are questions that are answered using a five-point scale ranging from 0 = never to 4 = very often. Total scores range from 0 to 54 across the 14 items, with higher scores representing greater stress and a diminished belief in one's ability to cope. PSS scores are obtained by reversing responses (for example, 0 = 4, 1 = 3, 2 = 2, 3 = 1, and 4 = 0) to the four positively stated items (items 4, 5, 7, and 8) and then summing across all scale items.

S. Cohen et al. (1983) reported a coefficient alpha reliability of .91 for the PSS. Psychometric data for the PSS scale were generated from two college student samples and a smoking cessation sample (S. Cohen et al., 1983). Cronbach's alpha reliabilities for each administration ranged from .84 to .86 (S. Cohen et al., 1983). The normative sample of the PSS was comprised of mostly white Americans (86.5%), with 7.8% of the sample consisting of African Americans (S. Cohen & Williamson, 1988). The scale has high predictive validity with life event scores; depressive, physical symptoms; utilization of health services; social anxiety; and smoking reduction maintenance. A reliability alpha of .73 for pretest and .77 for posttest were obtained for the current study.

The RIE scale is a standardized measure for the assessment of the degree to which an individual perceives reinforcement as contingent on her or his actions. The instrument contains 23 forced-choice items and has been reported to possess adequate internal reliability and test reliability. The locus of control construct is assumed to be a continuous variable ranging from an internal to an external stance. The scale ranges from a score of 0 to 23, with a higher score indicating the number of external attributes endorsed. Results of initial testing indicate that people scoring high on external locus of control tend to believe that the responsibility for and control over one's life resides largely with fate, luck, chance, or powerful others. Rotter (1966) reported a Kuder-Richardson internal consistency reliability coefficient of .70 from a sample of 400 college students. There is limited information about whether normative efforts for this measure included ethnically diverse populations. However, reliability coefficients were .71 for pretest and .69 for posttest scores for this study, which indicate internally consistent findings for black college women in the northeastern United States.

The BAPC-C measures an individual's proactive coping style. This scale is derived from Tyler (1978) and Tyler and Pargament's (1981) Behavioral Attributes of Psychosocial Competence Scale-Form A Revised, which was found to be reliable and valid for different ethnics groups, including black American samples. The BAPC-C scale consists of a 13-item forced-choice questionnaire, eight items of which assess active coping style, three of which assess emotional coping style, and two of which assess both active and emotional coping styles. Active coping is measured in terms of the degree to which an individual manifests an active and planful coping orientation, high initiative in the pursuit of set goals, and a capacity for experiencing and building from successes and failures. Individual items are scored 1 or 0. Item scores are added to form a total score potentially ranging from 0 to 13. A higher score is associated with a more active coping orientation. The BAPC-C has been found to be moderately correlated, at -.38, with the Internal-External Locus of Control Scale developed by Rotter (1966). Tyler (1978) reported a Kuder-Richardson reliability coefficient of .76 for the BAPC-C. Reliability coefficients were .76 at pretest and .79 at posttest for the current study, which is consistent with Tyler's (1978) scores.

Statistical Analyses

Data were analyzed using SPSS version 14 for Microsoft Windows. Descriptive statistics were used to examine the demographic characteristics of the sample. Chi-square and independent two-sample t-test analyses were conducted on demographic variables to estimate group differences. Repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was used to test changes over the two time periods for the outcome variables. This was a two-group (CYC intervention, no-treatment-control) by two-time-point (preintervention, postintervention) by outcome (perceived stress, external locus of control, and active coping model) analysis. A p value of .05 or less was used for statistical significance; all probability values were two-tailed. The interaction effects of condition by group were of particular interest in the current research because they reveal the differential effectiveness of the two experimental conditions at pre- and posttests.


Participant Characteristics

Participants' mean age was 19.6 years, and 32% were college sophomores (see Table 1). Of the 76 participants who completed the study, 39 (51.3%) were African American and 37 (48.7%) were of other black ethnicities (Caribbean, African, CapeVerdean, Haitian, other). Other demographic variables of interest included work/number of hours worked per week, families' socioeconomic status, and previous or current participation in counseling (individual, group, or family). No significant differences emerged among the CYC intervention or comparison groups in demographic characteristics.

Results of a repeated measures MANOVA indicate that after 10 weeks, perceived stress scores were reduced significantly for CYC intervention group participants as compared with comparison group participants [F(1,74) = 11.2, p < .01] (see Table 2). For the CYC group, the mean at pretest was 27.3 (SD = 4.9) and at posttest was 25.1 (SD = 7.2); for the control group, the mean at pretest was 26.5 (SD = 4.8) and at posttest was 29.2 (SD = 6.2). J. Cohen (1969) described an effect size of .2 as "small," an effect size of .5 as "medium" and an effect size of .8 as grossly perceptible and therefore "large" and equated it to the difference between two groups. The minimum detectable effect size that would be of clinical or substantive significance for the variable perceived stress is between .05 and .06; hence, as described by J. Cohen, it would produce a medium effect. This is based on a .05 probability for an F-test with 174 degrees of freedom. Repeated measures MANOVA results identified no significant difference between groups or over time on the self-report measures for locus of control and coping.

Pre- and Postoutcome Scores by Time and Group and Site

To see whether there were differences among college sites, additional MANOVAs were conducted. The repeated measures MANOVA indicates no significant main effect for time-by-intervention group-by-site effect for perceived stress [F(3, 68) = 1.61, p < .05], locus of control [F(3, 68) = .44, p < .05], or coping [F(3, 68) = .08, p < .05], suggesting that all college site groups, whether assigned to the CYC program group or the comparison group, responded equally. Results for the comparison groups remained the same.


Participants in the CYC group intervention program reported a decrease in perceived stress, whereas the comparison group participant's scores remained stable from pretest to posttest. As supported by previous research on the use of group work with black women (Boyd-Franklin, 1991; Denton, 1990; Fenster, 1996; Hopps & Pinderhughes, 1999), these results suggest that the group intervention program provided a supportive environment in which participants could feel comfortable to discuss their difficulties in relation to their daily life stressors. In addition, the group program may have provided both a direct and an indirect buffering of stress, assisting participants in altering their perception of stress and helping to alleviate stress once experienced. These results are congruent with earlier significant findings [F(1, 56) = 6.45,p < .01] (Jones, 2004) on the outcome variable of perceived stress among black college women. In addition, these finding are consistent with previous research indicating that students who participate in supportive college mental health programs reduce their levels of stress (Cutrona, Cole, Colangelo, Assouline, & Russell, 1994; Dahlem, Farley, Zimet, & Zimet, 1988; Felsten & Wilcox, 1992). Furthermore, G. Cohen, Aronson, and Steele (2000) found that support services that give attention to social-psychological processes, such as threatening academic and social environments for black, Latino, and female college students, boost both academic achievement and college adjustment. The literature indicates that establishment of close interpersonal relationships under the auspices of student services serves as an important culture-specific form of coping for black students dealing with routine stressors of college life (for example, Carter, 2000; Dill & Henley, 1998; Gloria & Rodriguez, 2000; Malson, 1983).

The low dropout rate from the CYC group reinforces the acceptability of this treatment to the participants and contrasts with historical patterns of high outpatient treatment dropout rates reported in the empirical literature (Neighbors, 1997; Snowden, 1999). There was also a low dropout rate from the control group, indicating the monetary incentive and the nature of the study were sufficient to hold the members' interest in participation. It appears that the use of support mechanisms, such as counseling group programs, may be an effective buffer in reducing the negative effects of psychological distress in a challenging higher education environment.

In contrast to perceived stress, there were no statistically significant findings on either measure of locus of control or coping orientation. Intervention participants brought into the group process personality and behavioral traits that had been developed on the basis of their experiences and socialization into a society that often hinders their ability to develop a healthy internal frame of reference and actively cope. It can he postulated that given the barriers to developing a healthy internal frame of reference experienced by black women in U.S. society, the personality construct of locus of control and their ingrained coping patterns may be constructs that are not amenable to statistically significant change in a short period of time.

The effect size on both measures of locus of control and coping was (.01), suggesting that the intervention had little effect on the outcome of these two variables or the intervention did not affect the intermediate variables of locus of control and coping. Although this study was intended to replicate previous research (Jones, 2004) by increasing the participant sample size from 54 to 76 and extending the length of the intervention from eight to 10 weeks, similar results yielded no statistically significant differences on the measures of locus of control and coping. A power analysis was conducted postintervention to detect an adequate sample for future studies. The results indicate (80% power, P = .05) the need for 400 participants in each group to detect a 15% difference in the outcomes of locus of control and coping. In retrospect, if the intervention increases its effect on the variables of locus of control and coping by 20%, the study will have power of 80% to yield a significant effect.

According to Bandura (1977), locus of control is a major mediator of behavior and behavioral change. Ira person believes that she or he cannot be successful with a given task or behavior, then that person will not be successful. In this study, the CYC group intervention did not have a statistically significant effect on decreasing external locus of control among intervention group participants as compared with the comparison group. Based on Bandura's theory of locus of control, intervention participants may not have developed a sense of mastery of control at the completion of the 10-week intervention program that led them to believe they could be successful in achieving desired goals or tasks. It is also possible that participants in the intervention condition brought into the group process personality and behavioral traits that are culturally adaptive, relative to being "black" and "female" in the United States. It is important to note that although not statistically significant, intervention group participants' level of externality changed in the hypothesized direction, whereas the comparison group showed an increase in level of externality. For the intervention group, the mean at pretest was 27.3 (SD = 5.0) and the mean at posttest was 25.2 (SD = 7.2). For the control group, the mean at pretest was 26.6 (SD = 4.8) and the mean at posttest was 27.9 (SD = 6.2). Thus, although the study's replications show some support for directionality, there is still a need to better understand this population's motivations and challenges to altering their existing personality construct of internal control. Bandura outlined four sources of information through which locus of control and self-efficacy expectations are learned and can be modified: (1) performance accomplishments, which include the actual experience of successfully performing the behavior; (2) modeling or vicarious learning; (3) verbal persuasion, which includes verbal support and encouragement; and (4) physiological arousal, including anxiety in connection with the behavior. Hence, future studies should examine how the use of these sources can be integrated into the CYC curriculum to affect how external locus of control can be decreased at a statistically significant level.

As shown by Tyler (1991), individuals who have difficulty in coping may find it more difficult to deal productively with life tasks or enjoy the rewards of their labors. Black college women in this study can be characterized as trying to understand and deal (actively cope) with their realities in ways that will permit them to survive in a potentially hostile environment (college). Similar to the findings on the variable of locus of control, there was no statistically significant finding on the measure of coping for black college women in this study.This finding also points to the need for additional systematic change agents in the curriculum to significantly increase active coping.

Withstanding the nonsignificant findings on the variables of locus of control and active coping, psychosocial competence and the Africentric perspective continue to hold as a useful starting framework for conceptualization of an intervention to develop the skills needed to assist black female college students with psychological and social adjustment. Several assumptions have been outlined regarding the cultural orientation of black Americans and psychosocial competence that support the rationale for using this conceptual framework as the basis for developing and implementing social and mental health services for black people (Asante, 1987; Baldwin, 1986). Specifically, Utsey, Adams, and Bolden (2000) identified four primary components important to effective problem-solving and coping skills development among African Americans: (1) cognitive and emotional debriefing (that is, adaptive reactions by African Americans in their efforts to manage perceived environmental stressors), (2) spiritual-centered coping (that is, coping behaviors that reflect a sense of connection with the spiritual self), (3) collective coping (that is, participants' use of group-centered activities to cope with stressful situations), and (4) ritual-centered coping (that is, respondents' use of Africentric-centered rituals to deal with stressful situations). Future investigations should seek to systematically incorporate all four components into achieving the outcomes of locus of control and active coping among black college women. Furthermore, as noted, the study did not have adequate power to detect small group differences in the variables of locus of control and coping. Future investigations of this intervention should take into consideration the use of more sensitive measures for this population and a larger sample size in the effort to demonstrate the utility of the intervention on the outcome variables of locus of control and active coping among black college women.

Limitations for Future Research

These findings should be considered in the context of several potential limitations. This sample was drawn from academically competitive and predominantly white institutions, and the results, therefore, should not be generalized to all university settings. As a result of the selectivity of the schools attended by participants, these students represents an elite group that is not representative of the larger population of black students attending colleges across the United States. In addition, it cannot be assumed that all of the women's experiences on each of the campuses were the same. Given the diversity among black women, additional studies conducted in a variety of settings and on more varied samples of black women in ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, and geographic region are also needed to confirm the study's generalizability. Furthermore, given that the participants volunteered, there may be an effect for self-selection into the study, and it is not possible to assess how representative these participants are of all black college women at the same college. Furthermore, the current study did not permit longitudinal follow-up past 10 weeks. A more extensive interval beyond 10 weeks with follow-up measures would go far toward establishing whether any benefits of the group intervention program are maintained over time.

It is important that social work practice research continue to focus on understanding of the psychosocial competence characteristics underlying adjustment and adaptation for black students and of the patterns of change needed to successfully matriculate at all universities and colleges. In addition, culturally congruent programs that show effectiveness with this population must be refined and replicated.

Implications for College Mental Health

Although there has been a rise in the proportion of black students attending predominately white institutions, from 9% in 1976 to 13% in 2004 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2006), it is unclear whether most universities and colleges are prepared to help black students adjust psychologically and socially. In efforts to retain these students, colleges and universities should provide culturally congruent supportive services, such as the CYC group counseling program described here. These findings have implications for professional and program development and for practitioners at university and college counseling centers and in community-based organizations.

Culturally specific psychoeducational groups aimed at enhancing psychosocial competence offer an effective mechanism to assist black college women in coping with the tasks of life and contribute to their ability to feel more in control of daily life events. Through this modality a supportive atmosphere provides a process in which an empathic interpersonal environment functions as a catalyst, encourages participants toward self-exploration and insight, and assists in adjustment with stressful events in their daily lives, such as racial discrimination and feelings of isolation (Jay & D'Augelli, 1991; Jenkins, 2002).

The study findings offer some preliminary data on the usefulness of a culturally congruent group intervention with black women and demonstrate that significant psychosocial changes can be generated in a college setting in a relatively short period of time. Most significant, the study is a starting point for replication and continuation of the development of culturally congruent group intervention models, using a similar research protocol. It also offers practitioners a useful method for providing counseling services from a strengths-based perspective, in congruence with the values and worldviews of most black students, in contrast to traditional medical models.

Original manuscript received October 24, 2006

Final revision received June 27, 2008

Accepted August 13, 2008


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Lani V. Jones, PhD, LICSW, is assistant professor, School of Social Welfare, University at Albany, State University of New York, Richardson Hall, 206, 135 Western Avenue, Albany, NY 12222; e-mail: This study was funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, grant number 5R01537603.
Table 1: Demographic Characteristics of Participants

 Intervention Comparison
 Group Group Total
 (n = 39) (n = 37) (N = 76)

Age M (SD) 19.6 (-1.4) 19.7 (-1.4)

Ethnicity (%)
 African American 0.487 0.541 0.513
 Caribbean 0.179 0.27 0.224
 African 0.103 0.027 0.066
 Cape Uerdean 0 0.027 0.013
 Hatian 0.077 0.054 0.066
 Other black 0.154 0.081 0.118
College class (%)
 Freshman 0.282 0.189 0.237
 Sophomore 0.308 0.324 0.316
 Junior 0.154 0.216 0.184
 Senior 0.256 0.27 0.263
Work (%)
 Yes 0.769 0.838 0.803
 No 0.231 0.162 0.197
Hours of work per week M (SD) 12.3 (-8.8) 16 (-9.2)
Socioeconomic status (%)
 Lower class 0.026 0.081 0.053
 Working class 0.378 0.378 0.368
 Lower middle class 0.243 0.243 0.211
 Middle class 0.189 0.189 0.289
 Upper middle class 0.081 0.081 0.066
 Upper class 0.027 0.027 0.013
Current counseling (%)
 Yes 0.333 0.27 0.303
 No 0.667 0.73 0.697


Age M (SD) t = 0.85, df = 74
 [chi square] = 0.48
Ethnicity (%)
 African American
 Cape Uerdean
 Other black
College class (%) [chi square] = 0.77, df = 3
Work (%) [chi square] = 0.56, df = 1
Hours of work per week M (SD) t = .08, df = 73
Socioeconomic status (%) [chi square] = 0.38, df = 5
 Lower class
 Working class
 Lower middle class
 Middle class
 Upper middle class
 Upper class
Current counseling (%) [chi square] = 0.55, df = 1

Note: t = independent two-sample t test; [chi square] = chi-square
test at the nominal level.

Table 2: Psychosocial Competence Outcome Means and Summary of Repeated
Measures Analysis of Intervetion Group Participation, by Time (N = 76)

 At Baseline At 10 Weeks

Variable M SD M SD

Perceived stress
 Intervention 27.31 5.00 25.16 7.21
 Control 26.57 4.85 29.3 6.23
Locus of control
 Intervention 12.03 4.01 10.77 4.08
 Control 12.62 3.76 12.03 3.32
 Intervention 8.61 2.68 9.21 2.89
 Control 8.54 3.35 8.78 3.46

 Interaction Effects Effect Size
Variable F df p [[eta].sup.2])

Perceived stress
 Intervention 11.16 1,74 .001 * .13
Locus of control
 Intervention 0.97 1,74 .327 .01
 Intervention 0.41 1,74 .525 .01

Note: All three outcome measures were included as dependent variables
in separate repeated measures multivariate analyses of variance using
the SP55 GLM (generalized linear models) program.

* p value significant at alpha [less than or equal to] .05.
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Author:Jones, Lani V.
Publication:Social Work Research
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2009
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