By Linda Serck
BBC Berkshire reporter
Psychologist Dr Lisa Doodson has spent years researching stepfamilies
A university lecturer is piloting a step-parenting course in Berkshire following pioneering research into how people cope within a new family.
Estimated figures suggest that one in 10 UK families features a step-parent.
Dr Lisa Doodson from Thames Valley University is looking for volunteers from Maidenhead and Slough to take part in her four-week programme.
She says of step-parents: "Everything is not within their control, so they have to learn to live with that".
Dr Doodson has set up Happy Steps, the UK's only research-based stepfamily resource centre, and is starting the pilot course on Wednesday 30 September 2009.
"The aim of the programme is to increase awareness for stepfamilies of the differences they might face between being in a regular family and being in a stepfamily," she says.
"There are a lot of distinct differences and once they understand better what they are then they can cope better with the demands that they have."
The course deals with people coming into a new family in which they're only looking after the child for part of the time.
It is based on Dr Doodson's four-year research with stepmothers that involved more than 250 women and is the most comprehensive study of its kind to be conducted.
She looked into how women's well-being and stress levels were affected by their experiences of being in a stepfamily.
Her results show that stepmothers are more prone to anxiety than biological mothers, and that they struggled to understand what their role was in the family.
"When you have child together with your partner you've got nine months to get ready," she says, "but step-parents are thrown into that situation - they don't have the time to really get used to it.
"They then have to develop this relationship with people that they don't know."
Dr Doodson will measure factors such as anxiety and depression at the beginning and end of the pilot to see if the course can improve step-parents' overall wellbeing and adaptability to their new situation.
"With the course I want to educate people, for example, in helping to understand what their role is - they're not a mum, not a dad, but a significant influence on a step-child's life.
"It's important to define that role within their family."
Happy Steps website
to find out more or to volunteer for the pilot.