Subclinical eating disorder in female students : development and evaluation of a secondary prevention and well-being enhancement programme
Kirsten, Doret Karen
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The first aim of this study was to develop a research based, integrated, secondary prevention programme, called the Weight Over-concern and Well-being (WOW) programme, for the reduction of Subclinical Eating Disorder (SED) symptoms, associated traits and negative mood states, and the promotion of psychological well-being (PWB) in female students. Consequently the second aim was to determine the effectiveness of the WOW-programme on its own, in comparison with a combined Tomatis Method of sound stimulation (Tomatis, 1990) and WOW-programme, regarding the reduction of SED-symptoms, associated traits and negative mood states; the promotion of PWB; and outcome maintenance. The last aim was to obtain a deeper understanding and "insiders' perspective" of the lived experience of SED, through an interpretative phenomenological inquiry (Smith & Osborn, 2003). The motivation for the current study is a need for research based, integrated, risk-protective, secondary prevention programmes from a social-developmental perspective for female university students (Garner, 2004; Phelps, Sapia, Nathanson & Nelson, 2000; Polivy & Herman, 2002), given their risk status (Edwards & Moldan, 2004; Senekal, Steyn, Mashego & Nel, 2001; Wassenaar, Le Grange, Winship & Lachenicht, 2000). Concurrently in-depth descriptions from an "insiders' perspective" on the lived experience of SED are non-existent and require interpretative phenomenological study (Brocki & Wearden, 2006). Consequently this thesis consists of three articles, namely: (i) Development of a secondary prevention programme for female university students with Subclinical Eating Disorder, (ii) A secondary prevention programme for female students with Subclinical Eating Disorder: a comparative evaluation; and (iii) Lived experiences of Subclinical Eating Disorder: female students' perceptions. The research context comprised Subclinical Eating Disorder, secondary prevention and Positive Psychology. The first article, Development of a secondary prevention programme for female university students with Subclinical Eating Disorder (Kirsten, Du Plessis & Du Toit, 2007a), is qualitative in nature, and narrates a process of participatory action research followed to develop the WOW-programme. This social process of knowledge construction, embedded in Social Constructivist theory (Koch, Selim & Kralik, 2002), gradually revealed best clinical practice, and in retrospect, evolved over four phases. Phase One comprised experiential learning based on personal experiences with SED as undergraduate student and interaction with "participant researchers" as scientist practitioner (Strieker, 2002), resulting in a provisional risk model of intervention. Phase Two, a formal pilot study (Du Plessis, Vermeulen & Kirsten, 2004), afforded an evaluation of ideas generated in Phase One through a three-group pre-post-test design. Outcomes of Phase Two informed Phase Three, an integration of prior learning with Positive Psychology theory and clinical practice, resulting in a risk-protective model of prevention. Theoretical assumptions previously constructed were integrated and operationalised during Phase Four, into the final 9-session WOW-programme. In conclusion the process of knowledge construction was rigorous, despite the small overall sample size (n=28), since data saturation occurred within that sample. Although the multitude of aims involved in each session of the WOW-programme could be seen as unrealistic, in some direct or indirect way, they were addressed by means of relevant interventions due to the integrative approach. Thus future refinement is essential. Finally, despite aforementioned concerns, the WOW-programme proved to be robust on its own in reducing SED-symptoms and associated traits and enhancing PWB, as described in the second article of this thesis. The second article, A secondary prevention programme for female students with Subclinical Eating Disorder: a comparative evaluation (Kirsten, Du Plessis & Du Toit, 2007b), describes the outcomes of the WOW-programme on its own, evaluated comparatively with a combined Tomatis sound stimulation and WOW-programme. In this article the research aims were to determine: (i) whether participation in the combined sound stimulation and WOW-programme (Group 1); and (ii) participation in a WOW-programme only (Group 2), would lead to statistically significant reductions in SED-symptoms, psychological traits associated with eating disorders and negative mood states, and enhancement of PWB; (iii) whether results of Groups 1 and 2 would exceed results of a non-intervention control group (Group 3) practically significantly; and (iv) whether programme outcomes for Groups 1 and 2 would be retained at four-month follow-up evaluation. A mixed method design (Creswell, 2003; Morse, 2003) was used, including a three-group pre-post-test (n=45) and multiple case study (n=30) design. Various questionnaires measuring SED-symptoms, associated traits, negative mood states and PWB were completed. Qualitative data were obtained by means of metaphor drawings, letters to and from the "SED-problem", focus group interviews, the researchers' reflective field notes and individual semi-structured feedback questionnaires (Morse, 2003). Participation in Groups 1 and 2 proved effective, since decreases in SED-symptoms, associated traits, most negative mood states, and increases in PWB differed practically significantly from the results of Group 3. Outcomes for Groups 1 and 2 were maintained at four-month follow-up evaluation. Qualitative findings provided depth, support and trustworthiness to quantitative findings in light of the small sample size, and highlighted the value of using a mixed method design in prevention programming. It was concluded that the WOW-programme on its own, was an effective secondary prevention programme, since it led to reduced SED-symptoms, associated psychological traits and enhanced PWB, with retention of gains at four-months follow-up evaluation. The combined programme involving Tomatis stimulation and WOW-intervention proved to be even more effective, thus the complimentary role of Tomatis stimulation was demonstrated. However, the cost-effectiveness and comparative brevity of the WOW-programme rendered it the programme of choice regarding individuals with SED. Findings showed that conceptually, pathogenic and salutogenic perspectives can be successfully combined into a risk-protective model of secondary prevention. Lastly, the WOW-programme may even prove useful as an enrichment programme for female students in general. The third article, Lived experiences of Subclinical Eating Disorder: female students' perceptions (Kirsten, Du Plessis & Du Toit, 2007c), provides a qualitative, in-depth perspective on the lived experience of SED of 30 white, undergraduate females, purposively sampled. In this interpretative phenomenological, multiple case study (Brocki & Wearden, 2006), Groups 1 and 2 of the aforementioned primary study in the second article were used, since they fitted the criteria of "good informants" and were able to answer the research question (Morse, 2003). Further sampling was deemed unnecessary since data saturation occurred within their written and verbal responses and no negative cases were found. Rich individual qualitative data, further clarified through focus groups, emerged from graphic colour representations of lived SED, explanatory written records and "correspondence" with and from their "SED problem" (Gilligan, 2000; Loock, Myburgh, & Poggenpoel, 2003; White & Epston, 1990). Four main categories, characterised by serious intra-, interpersonal, existential and body image concerns were subdivided into seven subcategories, namely: Personal Brokenness, Personal Shame, Perceived Personal Inadequacy and Enslavement, Existential Vacuum, Perceived Social Pressure, Perceived Social Isolation and Body-image Dysfunction. Results were indicative of underestimation of SED-severity, its comprehensive detrimental impact on participants' PWB and high risk for escalation into full-blown eating disorders. It was concluded that the lived experiences of SED depicted the severity of SED-symptoms; descriptions resonated well with most of their pre-programme mean scores; and their risk status and need for contextually and developmentally relevant secondary prevention programmes were highlighted by the findings.
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