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adolescents, differentiation of self, factor analysis, family systems theory, psychometric properties



  1. Knauth, Donna G.
  2. Skowron, Elizabeth A.


Background: Evidence of psychometric support is needed for use of the Differentiation of Self Inventory with adolescents as a clinical assessment instrument to evaluate psychotherapeutic progress and outcomes, and for its use as a research instrument to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions on the basis of Bowen family systems theory.


Objective: To examine the reliability and validity of the 46-item, self-report Differentiation of Self Inventory (DSI) for use with adolescents.


Method: An ex post facto research design was used to determine the psychometric properties of the DSI for adolescents, and to test theoretically grounded hypotheses drawn from Bowen theory that linked differentiation of self with chronic anxiety and symptom development. The DSI, the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and the Symptom Pattern Scale were administered to an ethnically diverse sample of 363 adolescents 14 to 19 years of age.


Results: The DSI full scale demonstrated good internal consistency reliability, with a Cronbach's alpha coefficient of .84. Factor analysis yielded a six-factor structure, representing the multidimensionality of the DSI items among adolescents. As hypothesized, differentiation of self mediated the relation between chronic anxiety and symptom development (p < .001), indicating that greater differentiation of self predicted fewer symptoms over and above chronic anxiety, and lending support to the construct validity of the DSI in adolescent populations.


Conclusions: The results of this study support the use of the DSI with adolescents. Future longitudinal studies are needed for definitive causal conclusions regarding the role that differentiation of self plays as a mediator between the relation of chronic anxiety and symptom development.