Graduation photo of student- Doug

Cyn Clarfield

Cyn Clarfield’s Dissertation Research: You’re Doing Fine, Right?

When Cyn Clarfield accepted her doctorate in clinical psychology at Antioch University Seattle’s 2017 Commencement she will be marking the end of a five-year dissertation process that has been exhausting, frustrating, compelling, wrenching, comforting, and healing. “When you pick a subject that’s personal – as most of us do – know that it can get, well, complicated,” says Clarfield.

Graduation photo of student- Doug

Clarfield drew from her own family history to explore an area that has been largely overlooked by the mental health community: the experience of adolescent siblings of substance abusers.

When Clarfield first left home for college, one of her brothers developed serious addiction issues. She says that while it affected her, the impact on her other brother, an adolescent living at home, was more profound. That prompted a desire to know more about what he and others in similar situations experience. She found a dearth of research and a lack of targeted therapeutic responses. So she designed a qualitative study that provided the foundation for her dissertation as well as her therapeutic practice.

Her advice to others embarking on a similar academic journey: “Develop a very concrete plan with your faculty advisor, with clear deadlines.” And take advantage of Antioch’s Writing Centers. “I am glad that I have a strong background in the humanities because it really helps to know how to write.”  Clarfield credits the AUS Academic Support Lab: “Working as a peer writing consultant has helped keep my writing strong and helped me transition my voice from an English major to a psychology graduate student with a more science-forward approach that I hope is enjoyable to read.”

Consider the adolescent whose brother or sister is abusing drugs or alcohol. The so-called “well-sibling” may be dealing with a complex set of issues – grief, shame, confusion, resentment – but those issues are eclipsed by the  “higher need” of the addicted sibling. That dynamic is in play both within the home and in support groups, which focus more on the substance abuser and the caretakers.

Cynthia Clarfield, who will earn her doctorate in Clinical Psychology next month, explored the adolescent sibling/substance abuse dynamic in her dissertation,  “You’re Doing Fine, Right?”: Adolescent Siblings of Substance Abusers.

Clarfield says there are tremendous impacts that happen when adolescents have a substance-abusing sibling: “Trust issues, expecting the worst outcome, feeling frustration with parents for having divided attention, taking on inappropriate caretaker roles, having a difficult time establishing boundaries.”  Early intervention, she says, can help an adolescent deal with these issues and develop healthy relationships with their siblings, parents, and future partners.

Clarfield designed her research using the open-ended Interpretive Qualitative Analysis (IQA) model. She describes the process of recruiting study participants as exceedingly difficult but believes the IQA was the right methodology:  “By not starting with a set of assumptions – as is typical with quantitative analysis – I discovered things I was not expecting. Even being an affected sibling myself before doing these interviews I didn’t know there was a shared experience. Just knowing there are others who experience what you experience is a huge support.”

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