Family Environments of Depressed and Well Parents and Their Children: Issues of Research Methods
Marian Radke Yarrow National Institute of Mental Health
Psychiatric illness in parents intrudes into family life and into the rearing functions that parents perform, and has significant influences on other family members. Continuing issues for research involve the specification of these influences and the mechanisms through which they affect individual outcomes. This chapter focuses on a special problem within this class of problems. Families in which one or both parents have an affective illness and families in which both parents are well and without histories of psychiatric disorder are investigated with respect to parents' behavior in relation to their children's functioning. What are the interpersonal processes and "cultures" within these families and the course of development in their young children? We are using our ongoing research on families of depressed and nondepressed parents as a case through which to discuss research strategies, measurement procedures, and analytic approaches relating to family research. Our focus here is primarily methodological. However, a sampling of empirical data is also presented to illustrate the methods and procedures.
We have chosen issues of methods as an emphasis for reasons that are obvious to researchers in this field: Family research is still an area of study in which problems of theory and measurement abound, although the field has in recent years become active and revitalized. It is benefiting from new concepts and new approaches--some of which have been developed in family therapy and research; some of which have been drawn from scientific advances in general. All in all, however, family research is not yet renowned for its robust research methodology, and certainly it is an area that is full of methodological challenges.
Research on the family is an enterprise that has many different purposes and interests traceable to diverse disciplinary and clinical origins: How does the family function as a system? How is it shaped by the macrocontexts of which it is