Brief therapy sessions can greatly improve mental health of women caring for children with severe health issues, U of L finds

Lynne Hall, Dr.P.H., R.N. (University of Louisville photo)

Just a little therapy can greatly improve the mental health of women who are overwhelmed by caring for children with severe health issues, says a study done at the University of Louisville.

After five sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy, “study participants reported significantly decreased depressive symptoms, negative thinking and chronic stressors, and experienced improved sleep quality,” U of L said in a news release.

Lynne Hall, associate dean of research at the U of L School of Nursing, presented the findings Friday at the Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science State of the Science Congress on Nursing Research in Washington, D.C.

“Women caring for children with chronic conditions such as cerebral palsy and cystic fibrosis are at high risk for depressive symptoms,” Hall said. “They have many things to juggle, including caring for the child, administering medications and coordinating physician and therapy visits. They’re stressed and overwhelmed by the amount of care their children require and the number of hours a day it takes.”

About 15 million American children have special health needs and 72 percent of their caregivers are women, the news release said. Hall said women caring for such children should be screened for depression and that brief cognitive behavioral therapy is an essential treatment for them.

Brief CBT is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy that “takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem solving and focuses on changing patterns of thinking or behavior to decrease negative thoughts and improve recognition of one’s ability to cope,” the release said.

Many women in the study “said they felt very isolated and there was no one who would listen to them,” said Catherine Batscha, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner who provided CBT to the study participants. “Because of their child’s care requirements, the women had difficulty getting together with friends because they couldn’t hire a babysitter who knows about medical equipment or complex health conditions, so people were cut off from a lot of social support.”

The study was funded by a $75,000 grant from Passport Health Plan’s Improved Health Outcomes Program and a $50,000 grant from Kosair Charities.

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