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More Research Needed to Involve Families in Psychosocial Interventions


Family-oriented psychosocial interventions seem to be beneficial in improving the mental and physical well-being of both patients with chronic illness and their family members, but the results aren’t as robust as researchers had hoped. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh say more research is needed to improve such interventions in a study published in the April issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Prior studies have found that supportive and non-supportive actions by family members are linked with a patient’s emotional well-being, health behaviors, immune function, blood pressure and illness events. When psychosocial and behavioral interventions such as patient education, support groups and cognitive behavioral therapies are integrated into care for chronic illness, the patient’s health is greatly improved.

A patient’s chronic illness also has been shown to impact the psychological and physical well-being of the patient’s caregiver. Researchers have attempted to incorporate a family member into the psychosocial component of the patient’s care in an attempt to bolster the effects the interventions have on the patient while also benefiting the caregiver. By looking at a number of published studies on the topic, the current study found that the impact of involving a family member had smaller effects than expected.

“There are volumes of anecdotal evidence about how including a family member in care and psychosocial interventions can improve the mental and physical health of both the patient and family member. For a number of reasons, researchers haven’t been able to demonstrate consistent results across studies,” said Lynn M. Martire, Ph.D., of the department of psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and University Center for Social and Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh. “However, the small effects that have been shown overall make for a compelling argument that we need to carry out well-designed studies that allow us to draw stronger conclusions.”

In a review of the scientific literature, the University of Pittsburgh researchers found that in 70 studies that compared a family-oriented psychosocial intervention to usual medical care alone, the family-oriented interventions had a small but promising effect on the emotional well-being of the patient and family member. A second literature review of 12 studies that compared patient-oriented psychosocial interventions to family-oriented interventions showed varying results, according to a number of factors, including disease, gender and type of intervention.

The University of Pittsburgh researchers say these findings suggest that future research into family interventions should attempt to target interactions that promote or derail healthy behaviors and incorporate strategies from family caregiver interventions.

“We have a lot to learn about how to involve families in the treatment of specific chronic illnesses,” said Dr. Martire. “We know that psychosocial interventions can help. We just need to figure out the best methodsto truly make a difference in the health of both the patients and their families.”


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