Salient Worries of At-Risk Youth: Needs Assessment Using the Things I Worry about Scale

Article excerpt

Worry has been defined as "a chain of negative and relatively uncontrollable thoughts and images" (Borkovec, Robinson, Pruzinsky, & Depree, 1983). Borkovec et al. (1983) go on to say that worry may be engaged in by an individual to serve the purpose of solving future problems even though solutions are rarely forthcoming due to the worrying. The link between worry and anxiety in clinical populations has been documented (Weems, 2000). In fact, worry is identified as the prominent diagnostic feature of Generalized Anxiety Disorder in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994). On a less pathological level, worry can generate negative affect and fear and preoccupy the worrier so that other activities and tasks are adversely affected (Borkovec et al., 1983). While the role of worry in mental disorders has been documented, there is little empirical evidence as to the effect of worry in the nonclinical population. This is especially true among special populations, including adolescents.

Efforts to ascertain the worries, or concerns, of nonclinical adolescents have typically been conducted by questioning adults (Gallagher & Millar, 1996; Porteous, 1979). Several researchers have gone straight to the source, however, surveying adolescents and children about salient worries (Antilla, Poikolainen, Uutela, & Lonnqvist, 2000; Boehm, Schondel, Marlowe, & Manke-Mitchell, 1999; Gallagher & Millar, 1996; Millar & Gallagher, 1996; Silverman, La Greca, & Wasserstein, 1995). The general consensus among these researchers is that adolescents worry about a variety of things, including personal issues, family-related concerns, employment, academics, global events such as war and famine, career, death of self or loved ones, and health. What adolescents worry about should interest the school counselor, upon whose shoulders rests the development of the guidance curriculum and the design of reactive counseling services delivered in educational settings. In order for school counselors to design the most appropriate interventions and developmental activities, the concerns or needs of the population they serve must be known (Schmidt, 1999). While needs assessments may take many forms, including surveys administered to students, teachers, and parents, a thorough appraisal of students' salient worries should be an integral part of a comprehensive needs assessment.

Needs assessments serve two primary functions. First, and most obviously, they help the school counselor understand the needs of the subpopulations they serve (e.g., students, parents, teachers). Second, needs assessments help to establish priorities, which aid in the construction and continual improvement of comprehensive counseling programming (Cook, 1989; Erford, 2003). It is posited here that the Things I Worry About Scale is a useful tool in assessing the emotional, social, and personal needs of students. Understanding the composition of students' worries and concerns may help counselors tailor interventions to address these worries.

The present study was designed to ascertain the salient worries of a sample of at-risk American adolescents using a psychometrically sound instrument, with the express purpose of using the data as a component of a comprehensive needs assessment. The data collected from this sample were then compared with the results from a normative sample composed of adolescents in Northern Ireland (see Gallagher & Millar, 1996; Millar & Gallagher, 1996). The goal of this secondary analysis was to shed light on the generalizability and utility of the instrument.

Specifically, two questions were investigated: (1) What do at-risk adolescents worry about? and (2) Is the identified pattern of at-risk students' worries different from the worries of a normative sample in Northern Ireland?

METHOD

Participants

Sixty-six students enrolled in a public charter high school (grades 9-12) in the southern United States participated in the present study. …