Academic journal article Family Relations

The Influence of Facilitator and Facilitation Characteristics on Participants' Ratings of Stepfamily Education

Academic journal article Family Relations

The Influence of Facilitator and Facilitation Characteristics on Participants' Ratings of Stepfamily Education

Article excerpt

We examine the relative importance of facilitator and facilitation characteristics on participant ratings of a stepfamily education program. Data from 48 facilitators and 598 participants suggest that quality facilitation is more meaningful to participants than whether facilitators have comparable demographic characteristics or life experiences. Hierarchical regressions identified time management effective use of personal experiences, and clear explanation of material as key facilitation skills. Popular assumptions about participant-facilitator similarity and implications for programming are discussed.

Key Words: facilitation, family life education, marriage enrichment, relationship education, remarriage, stepfamilies.


As the research illustrating the benefits of couple and relationship education (CRE) accumulates (Hawkins, Blanchard, Baldwin, & Fawcett, 2008), and as government support of marriagestrengthening programs increases (Brotherson & Duncan, 2004), so too has there been a growing recognition that participant characteristics have programmatic implications (Adler-Baeder & Higginbotham, 2004; Halford, 2004). For example, "relying solely on the general couple and marital research to inform practice with couples in stepfamilies may result in educational experiences that are inadequate to meet their unique needs" (Adler-Baeder & Higginbotham, p. 448). In addition to content implications, the growing CRE literature also suggests that facilitator characteristics should be carefully and strategically considered, particularly when targeting specific populations.

In the case of CRE for stepfamilies, it has been implied that the most effective facilitators are individuals who are themselves in a stepfamily (Adler-Baeder & Higginbotham, 2004). In their article outlining a "comprehensive framework" for CRE, Hawkins, Carroll, Doherty, and Willoughby (2004) identified the instructor as one of the key components of any effective program. They posited, "the more instructors are familiar with the particular issues that participants face, the more credibility they will have" (p. 549). This statement is congruent with the research on similarity in therapy settings. In the clinical literature, it has long been purported that "receivers" tend to perceive "sources" similar to themselves as more credible (Simons, Berkowitz, & Moyer, 1970) and that commonalities between counselors and clients foster positive outcomes (Atkinson & Schein, 1986).

To date, however, there has been little empirical research investigating participant-facilitator characteristics in CRE settings and any related effect on participant evaluations. The rationale for such a study includes the ongoing federal healthy marriage initiative and efforts to make CRE more effective for specific populations - including low-income families and couples in stepfamilies (Robertson et al., 2006; see also In addition, there is a large body of research from clinical psychology dealing with therapistclient characteristics, suggesting that there may be promise in identifying desirable facilitator attributes and appropriately employing those characteristics in the staffing and implementation of CRE programs. The current study aims to identify which specific facilitator attributes influence participant ratings of stepfamily CRE classes.

Theoretical Background

The humanistic approach to psychology holds implications for interactions inside and outside the therapy room (Corey, 2005), and CRE assumptions mirror many of the "personcentered" recommendations posited by humanist theory. Most notably, the humanist tenant that therapists should exhibit unconditional positive regard (Rogers, 1957) is quite similar to Ooms and Wilson's (2004) assertion that CRE facilitators should be "caring," "respectful," "accepting," and "able to see individual participant's strengths and potential more readily than their challenges and deficits" (p. …

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