Martha E. Wadsworth
Associate Professor, Clinical Child
Dr. Wadsworth is not taking new graduate students
My primary research focuses on risk and protective factors in families in poverty. Of primary interest is understanding what the stressors of poverty are for children of different ages, how this stress affects development, and how individuals of all ages respond and adapt to poverty's stress. I come at these research questions from a developmental psychopathology perspective. Thus, for example, I am particularly interested in examining the degree to which and when (in terms of developmental timing) coping and stress responses serve as either protective factors (efficacious coping) or as diatheses (poor coping utilization, lack of flexibility in coping, limited coping repertoires, high stress reactivity), in a diathesis-stress model of the development of psychopathology, psychophysiologic dysregulation, and poor physical health. I also take a developmental-ecological approach, and as such the social and ecological context in which my participants are living and operating is a crucial piece of my research as well. For my research, this means that the financial situation, the urban setting, and the multicultural nature of my samples are built into the research design and the questions that I ask.
Thus far, my research program has provided answers to some key questions about how family members of all ages experience poverty's stress and how they cope with that stress. We have found that despite the fact that parents in our study do not believe that their young children are aware of the family finances, children know. For example, more than 50% of the 6-10 year-old children in our study report that they worry about finances more than their parents do-and their parents uniformly report the opposite. We have also found that children and adolescents cope with financial stress in a variety of ways, some adaptive, some not. Children and adolescents describe using Secondary Control Coping the most to deal with economic strain. This type of coping, which includes Acceptance, Cognitive Restructuring (i.e., reframing the situation), Distraction (i.e., keeping mind off stressor by re-engaging attention elsewhere), and Positive Thinking, is often found to be the most adaptive in low control situations. Thus, on average, the children and adolescents in our sample are making wise choices about their coping strategies, as they are matching strategy to controllability of the stressor. However, some individuals in our sample tend to use Disengagement Coping, such as avoidance, wishful thinking, and denial, to cope with economic stressors, and these individuals tend to have higher levels of psychopathology. We are currently exploring various models of how these complex relations unfold over time in our longitudinal data.
My research is currently funded by a grant from the Administration of Children and Families (a division of DHHS). In collaboration with Howard Markman, we are currently testing the efficacy of the FRAME (Fatherhood, Relationship, and Marriage Education) project using a randomized control trial of 300 low-income families from the Denver metro area. The FRAME project builds directly on the above family stress-and-coping research (and couple's-based research of Dr. Markman) and is aimed at strengthening inter-parental and parent-child relationships, as well as fostering effective coping and parenting for these at-risk families. We are currently working on several iterations of FRAME, including a Spanish FRAME, designed to meet the needs of Latino families in Colorado and beyond.
We have a busy, active lab with both graduate and undergraduate students directly involved in all aspects of research. Graduate students in my lab have been exceptionally successful in securing external funding for their dissertation projects-three of my four advanced graduate students received NIMH National Research Service Awards for their dissertations. Students are involved in all phases of the research process, from grant writing and data collection, to data management, analysis and publishing.
My clinical orientation is primarily cognitive-behavioral, although I have an interest in and appreciation for interpersonal approaches as well. I enjoy family work and assessments and therapy with children of all ages.
Santiago, C.D. & Wadsworth, M.E. (in press). Coping with family conflict: what's helpful and what's not for low-income adolescents. Journal of Child and Family Issues.
Wadsworth, M.E. & Santiago, C.D. (2008). Risk and resiliency processes in ethnically diverse families in poverty. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 399-410.
Reich, J. & Wadsworth, M.E. (2008). Out of the floodwaters, but not entirely on dry ground: experiences of displacement, adjustment, and trauma in adolescents following Hurricane Katrina. Children, Youth, and Environments, 18, 354-370.
Wadsworth, M.E., Santiago, C.D., Wolff B., & Reinhard, C. (2008). The role of stress-and-coping processes in the pernicious effects of poverty. In M.M. Watkins (Ed.), World Poverty Issues, pp. 5-35. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.
Wadsworth, M.E., Raviv, T., Reinhard, C., Wolff, B., Santiago, C.D., & Einhorn, L. (2008). An indirect effects model of the association between poverty and child functioning: The role of children's poverty-related stress. Journal of Loss and Trauma: International Perspectives on Stress and Coping. Special Issue: Poverty and Mental Health, 13, 156-185.
Rhoades, G. K., McIntosh, D.N., Wadsworth, M.E., Ahlkvist, J.A., Burwell, R.A., Gudmundsen, G.R., Raviv, T., & Rea, J.G. (2007). Forgiving the perpetrators of September 11th: Associations with religiosity, responses to stress, and psychological distress. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 20, 109-128.
Wadsworth, M.E., & Berger, L. (2006). Adolescents coping with poverty-related family stress: Prospective predictors of coping and psychological symptoms. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35, 57-70.
Wadsworth, M.E. (2006). Developmental psychopathology. In N.Salkind (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Human Development, pp. 363-369. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Markman, H., Stanley, S., Jenkins, N., Petrella, J., & Wadsworth, M. (2006). Preventive Education: Distinctives and Directions. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 20, 411-433.
Wadsworth, M.E. & Achenbach, T.M. (2005). Explaining the link between low socioeconomic strata and psychopathology: Testing two mechanisms of the social causation hypothesis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73, 1146-1153.
Wadsworth, M.E., Raviv, T., Compas, B.E., & Connor-Smith, J.K. (2005). Parent and adolescent responses to poverty-related stress: Tests of mediated and moderated coping models. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 14, 285-300.
Martha E. Wadsworth
University of Vermont
Associate Professor, Clinical Child
office: Frontier Hall,
Colorado Project on Economic Strain
Fatherhood, Relationship, and Marriage Education
Stress Research Network