Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

The Stories Students Tell: TAT Stories of Bereaved and Non-Bereaved College Students in a Christian Evangelical University

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

The Stories Students Tell: TAT Stories of Bereaved and Non-Bereaved College Students in a Christian Evangelical University

Article excerpt

The researchers analyzed, within an Evangelical Christian university context, bereaved and non-bereaved college students' Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) stories for themes of death, grief, general coping, and religious coping. The study measured: (a) how students in the throes of their grief construct TAT stories, (b) differences in coping between bereaved vs. non-bereaved and women vs. men, and (c) coping for chose who specifically mentioned death or grief themes. Results found that students constructed their TAT stories with high frequencies of general coping. Frequencies did not differ by bereavement status or gender, but those mentioning death or grief even more often mentioned coping. Religious coping themes emerged infrequently. Results differ greatly from a prior study at a secular university, suggesting the need to further examine diis group. Findings are discusscd in light of socio-historical context and recent studies measuring college student religiosity/spirituality. Implications for further research are made.

This manuscript is part of a larger study examining the incidence and prevalence of bereavement in the lives of college students. It builds on an earlier study (Balk et al., 1998) that examined TAT stories written by bereaved and non-bereaved college students through replication and expansion to consider specifically a Christian university population. The assumptions we used in this current research included the following: (a) bereavement is a life crisis, (b) cognitive models of coping provide persuasive explanations of life crises, and (c) some aspects of life crises are ineffable and require free response data gathering techniques. (1) We seek to explore these explanations as they occur within an explicitly Christian Evangelical context.

Sociohistorical Context of Bereavement

College students of today face a specific context that provides a new trend in the experience of bereavement, crisis, and loss. Technological advances have led to an environment where students are "connected" to the Internet and forms of social media nearly all the time. Access to information and news reports is ongoing, and students are more aware than ever of global and local violence in the form of terrorist attacks, school shootings, and bullying. This ongoing exposure can create an illusion of proximity, which has been found to relate to distress, post-traumatic stress, and depression for students exposed to school shootings and terrorist attacks (Blanchard, Rowell, Kuhn, Rogers, & Wittrock, 2005; Suomalainen, Haravuori, Berg, Kiviruusu, & Marttunen, 2011). Most depressive symptoms subside after 11 weeks following exposure to violent events (Lindsey, Fugure, & Chan, 2007), however, students dealing with stress and emotional turmoil following the September 11 terrorist attacks even experienced post-traumatic growth after a period of time (Ai, Tice, Lemieux, & Huang, 201 I). College students thus seem to be adjusting to the changing environmental demands, even growing personally and spiritually; nevertheless, the experience of loss coping may have shifted due to the perception that crises is not too far off.

Bereavement: A Life Crisis

Bereavement over someone's death is the paradigmatic human crisis. Contemporary scholars into life crises take their lead from the influential work of Lindemann and his colleagues into acute grief (Lindemann, 1944). Lindemann was instrumental in the development of what came to be known as crisis intervention, and much of his inspiration into offering mental health crisis services came from his work with people who were bereaved (see also Caplan, 1964; Leighton, 1959). Bereavement manifests the essential elements of a crisis. A situation threatens well-being, typical coping skills prove inadequate to resolve the matter, and failure to cope well foreshadows serious repercussions (Moos & Schaefer, 1986). Another constituent aspect of life crises is that they contain within themselves the possibilities of growth and transformation, as some college students experienced after 9/11 (Ai et al. …

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