Title

The refinement and validation of a model of family functioning after child's disclosure as lesbian, gay or bisexual

Date of Award

2009

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Counseling and Human Services

Advisor(s)

Dennis D. Gilbride

Keywords

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Family functioning, Parent adjustment

Subject Categories

Counseling Psychology | Family, Life Course, and Society | Gender and Sexuality | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology

Abstract

This dissertation examines the anecdotal and empirical literature regarding the experiences of heterosexual parents after their child discloses an identity as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Currently, there is limited empirical data which addresses this issue. The author utilized a path analysis to study, refine and validate an emergent theory of family functioning (Goodrich, 2009). This model explored a number of predictor variables, including: parents' pre-conceived notions about their child's sexual orientation, comfort with disclosure to others, parents' initial emotional reaction, religiosity, perceived level of social support, cognitive flexibility, empathy, family's behavioral response to their child's disclosure, as well as parent's endorsed level of heterosexism. These predictor variables were used to find the direct and indirect effects on the criterion variable: parent's perceptions of current family functioning. The results found partial support for the emergent model of parental identity adjustment (Goodrich, 2009). Significant paths were found between parent needs and initial emotional expression, initial emotional expression and social support, initial emotional expression and cognitive flexibility, social support and empathy, religiosity and cognitive flexibility, as well as cognitive flexibility and family functioning. Based on these results, it appears important for "difficult" conversations (Stone Fish & Harvey, 2005) to occur in families after disclosure, specifically conversations about family member experiences and reactions to the disclosure. It was also found that more successful outcomes occur when parents seek support from their spouse. Additionally, the results suggest that the focus of family behavior should center around the needs of their child, away from a focus on the parent's needs, and family members should be allowed to have lives within, as well as outside, of the family. The study's significance is that it provides a greater insight into the process parents and families undergo once they learn their child is lesbian, gay or bisexual. It also offers a number of clinical implications so that counselors are better able to intervene in their work with parents who struggle to adjust to the news that their child identifies as lesbian, gay or bisexual.

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