Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Thomas V. McGovern


There is contradictory evidence as to whether the middle years are problematic for women. The research indicates that the middle years, particularly the empty nest period, are traumatic for some women, but for others a time of relief. More recent research suggests that for women who do find the middle years problematic, certain types of group experiences may be helpful. The purpose of this study was to investigate this time of life for a specific population of women, traditional married women who have devoted their time primarily to raising a family. This study examined identity and self-esteem in these women during their middle years, as well as one group experience, the Life Planning Seminar (LPS), for its effect on identity and self-esteem.

Results indicated that for the traditional married women in this study, the middle years, particularly the empty nest period, were indeed problematic. All of the participants experienced some sort of identity crisis during these years, and for most the crisis was related to the empty nest. The empty nest was experienced by these women as a time of loss and confusion about who they were and the roles they were playing. For most of the women in this study, the loss of maternal role and resulting identity crisis were accompanied by a loss in self-esteem. Results also indicated that for the women in this study, identity and self-esteem were significantly stronger following participation in the LPS. There was also a significant change in sense of identity for participants from before to after the LPS, with identity before the LPS largely reflected, and after the LPS predominantly personal.

The results of this study suggest that at least for some traditional married women, the middle years, particularly the departure of children during this time are problematic. Apparently for these women, the loss or reduction of the maternal role precipitated an identity crisis which was accompanied by a loss of self-esteem. Results also suggest that for such women, a group experience such as the LPS can be beneficial in resolving the crisis which occurs, and in restoring self-esteem, by helping women to redefine themselves and plan a new direction for the future.


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