Family Therapy Helps Recovery of Seriously Ill Children

Providing family therapy as part of the medical treatment of chronically ill children consistently enhances medical outcomes and increases the overall mental health for adolescent patients and their family members, as well as treatment professionals.

Written by: Georgia Godfrey

Providing family therapy to seriously ill children and their families consistently enhances medical outcomes and increases the overall mental health for adolescent patients, family and treatment professionals, Texas Tech Marriage and Family Therapy faculty found through a unique partnership integrating family counseling as part of medical treatment.

"Medical family therapy is a proven benefit for children and families dealing with a serious illness," said Linda Hoover, dean of the College of Human Sciences. "With this new research, we can begin treating more children and their families and hopefully improve recovery and responsiveness to illness."

The research, examining the effectiveness and utility of family therapy in treating seriously ill children, was presented this past weekend at the annual American Psychological Association Convention in San Francisco. The presentation was titled: "The Integration of Family Systems with Intensive Pediatric Health Care: The role of family therapy in the treatment of seriously ill children."

The findings resulted from a unique partnership in which Texas Tech marriage and family therapists provided counseling to families dealing with an adolescent illness, integrating counseling as a core treatment component. More than 300 families have participated in the treatment process through this partnership, established in 2005 between Texas Tech and Covenant Children’s Hospital. Therapists are integrated into daily treatment routines and schedules in order to serve the families and children throughout the illness.

Researchers found that by providing medical family therapy to pediatric intensive care patients, pediatric oncology patients, and neo-natal intensive care units, families were better able to cope. Results were measured both quantitatively and qualitatively through satisfaction questionnaires, treatment responsiveness, and measurement of medical results.

"We have consistently seen the benefits of medical therapy to our patients and their families as they go through challenging times," said Dr. Melanie Oblender, chief of staff for Covenant Children’s Hospital and pediatric oncologist. "Our goal is to continue to implement these therapists as a core part of the treatment team in order to better aide patients through the treatment process."

In front of an audience of colleagues, the research team – comprised of Texas Tech Marriage and Family Therapy faculty and colleagues at Covenant Children’s Hospital – provided a general overview of treatment modalities, philosophy, and orientation procedures that are regularly conducted by advanced medical family therapy doctoral students to these children.

The Marriage and Family Therapy Program provides clinical and academic training grounded in systems theory to students who will function as marriage and family therapists at the highest level of clinical competence. As part of the College of Human Sciences, this program contributes to the field of marriage and family therapy through research, teaching and other activities as well as helping clients.

The team included David C. Ivey, Thomas G. Kimball, Melanie Oblender, Patricia Evans, Stephanie Haygood, Tiffany Brown, and Amanda Harrington.

CONTACT: Georgia Godfrey, coordinator for college development and external relations, College of Human Sciences, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-3263, or