Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Eli Teram

Advisor Role

Dissertation Supervisor


A qualitative study of 21 at-risk adolescents led to the development of a grounded theory which shows that mental health and resilience depends on the acceptance of teenagers experiences for their self-definitions and the power they exercise in the social discourse which constructs these defining labels. Using the metaphor of drift, this paper explores how teens seek acceptance for the most powerful personal labels accessible to them. The process of empowerment is conceptualized as a protective mechanism giving a young person power in the social construction of his or her identity. The young people in this study explained that participation in a process of empowerment which fosters mental health has three distinct elements: first, the empowerment process takes place within the context of relationships; second, it provides participants with experiences of control and power resulting in a say in the social discourse which defines the individual; and third, the empowerment process depends on access to experiences of competence which contribute to positive self-definitions. An extensive review of the literature helps to illustrate a theoretical basis for the grounded theory linking mental health and empowerment during adolescence.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season