A pilot of an acceptance-based risk reduction program for relational aggression for adolescents

Christina Theodore-Oklota, Susan M. Orsillo, Jonathan K. Lee, Peter M. Vernig

Psychosocial consequences of relational aggression have garnered significant attention. Although most adolescents are targets of relational aggression at some point, only a sub-group experience significant psychological distress and impaired functioning, with research linking experiential avoidance to negative outcomes. The present study sought to develop and pilot a school-based risk-reduction program informed by acceptance-based behavioral theory aimed to reduce experiential avoidance and increase acceptance- and action-based coping to reduce psychosocial distress. Eight 7th grade classrooms comprising of 210 participants with a mean age of 12.45 were group-randomized to either immediate or waitlist condition. Multiple regressions were conducted on baseline and three-month follow-up measures of peer victimization, peer aggression, experiential avoidance, psychopathology, and coping style. Baseline experiential avoidance was significantly associated both the extent to which a student engaged in, and was the victim of, both relational and physical aggression. The program group engaged in more problem-solving coping compared to the waitlist group at follow-up. Change in experiential avoidance predicted negative outcomes at follow-up across domains regardless of group assignment. Implications and recommendations for future studies are discussed.

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