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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


The Emotional and Academic Effects of a Group Intervention Programme on Adolescents of Divorce

Bettie Wiechers.

Divorce has become so prevalent in present day society, that it is regarded being commonplace. Yet it is also one of the most stressful and complex mental health crises facing children today. As parents are often under tremendous stress during the time of divorce, they may be incapable of providing the support and guidance children need. Divorce has a lasting effect on children and, contrary to popular belief, its impact increases over an extended period following the parental break-up. Frequently observed problems are lowered academic achievement, restless behaviour, concentration problems, increased daydreaming and aggression, anxiety, depression, interpersonal problems (with parents, teachers and peers) and a negative self-concept.

This research was motivated by the fact that adolescents of divorce were constantly being referred to school counsellors and psychologists due to behavioural, emotional and academic problems. In consultation with them it became clear that the functioning of these children (both emotional and academic) was often seriously compromised. Within a school context in South Africa individual therapy is becoming very difficult, due to an increasing amount of referrals and a dwindling staff ratio in the ancillary services. Prophylactic group intervention for at-risk learners was therefore thought to be a viable alternative.

This study was then designed to test the hypotheses that adolescents of divorce, who participate in a developmentally relevant group intervention programme (designed for children of divorce), would exhibit less depression, less anxiety, an increased self-concept and improved school performance. The ten-week programme was divided into three components - an affective component, a cognitive component and a support component. The programme taught communication and problem-solving techniques and focussed on conflict and anger management. It specifically did not address academic issues regarding study techniques and academic motivation.

A semi-structured group approach was used and during the group sessions it was attempted to create a supportive environment in which the adolescents shared, explored and clarified divorce-related experiences. In the experimental design, availability or convenience sampling was used. A group of six to eight members is regarded as ideal for group work and it was therefore decided to recruit a group of eight members whose parents had divorced during the past year- which placed them in the “acute phase” of the divorce process. The eight group members were then subjected to a battery of tests. The tests were again administered after the ten week programme had been completed. The participants completed the Adolescent Self-Concept Scale; Beck’s Depression Inventory and the IPAT Anxiety Scale. Furthermore their school performance was evaluated both before and after participation in the intervention programme.

In this research hypotheses about a group of learners were tested, but, because of the small sample size neither the z nor the t tests statistic could be used. Although the virtues of nonparametric tests have been much debated, those who favour using nonparametric tests argue that they have most of the virtues of traditional parametric tests, without the possible distortions that might arise if assumptions are violated. A nonparametric procedure that is often used for one-sample cases, and which was used in this research, is the Wilcoxon signed-rank test. This test determines whether or not the data imply that the population distribution of scaled responses are the same for the group in the before testing as in the after testing.

The findings were that the intervention programme did not serve to insulate the members against the negative effects of divorce. However, this research did indicate that a group intervention programme can contribute to altering adolescents’ conceptions about the divorce, reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and enhance their self concept and academic performance. In fact the total improvement in self-concept and depression is highly significant (at a 99% level of confidence) and the total improvement regarding anxiety and school performance is significant (at a 95% level of confidence).

Specific suggestions are made for further research.


Bettie Wiechers  (South Africa)
Professor in Educational Psychology
Department of Educational Studies
The University of South Africa

BA, HED, DNE, BA(Hons. Psych), BEd, MEd(Psychology of Education), DEd, NLP Master Practitioner, Registered Educational Psychologist, Registered Counselling Psychologist.

I hold a full professorship in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of South Africa. I started my career teaching languages at a secondary school. Thereafter I qualified as a psychologist and gained experience in various fields. At the Child Guidance Institute of the University of Pretoria I focussed on children with behavioural problems and did a great deal of Play Therapy. At the Student Guidance Bureau at the same university I specialised in study methods and curtailing examination anxiety. At Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital I dealt mainly with problems relating to stress, anxiety, depression and trauma debriefing. Since the inception of the training courses for Educational Psychologists at the University of South Africa (in 1985) I have been actively involved in the planning and construction of these courses as well as in the practical training of the students. Twenty-Six Masters and Doctoral students have completed their studies under my supervision and promotership. I am the author of 43 articles in my fields of study and have delivered 32 papers at national and international conferences.

  • Academic performance
  • Divorce
  • Adolescents
  • Intervention Programme
  • Self-concept
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

(30 min Conference Paper, English)