A new study finds that brief cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can significantly improve the mental health of women overwhelmed by caring for children with severe chronic health conditions, such as cerebral palsy or cystic fibrosis.

Brief CBT, a short-term goal-oriented form of psychotherapy, offers a hands-on practical approach to problem-solving and focuses on changing patterns of thinking or behavior to help alleviate negative thoughts and improve recognition of one’s own ability to cope.

“Women caring for children with chronic conditions such as cerebral palsy and cystic fibrosis are at high risk for depressive symptoms,” said Lynne Hall, Dr.P.H., R.N., associate dean of research and professor at the University of Louisville (UofL) School of Nursing.

“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.”

The findings show that, after five therapy sessions, study participants reported significantly decreased depressive symptoms, negative thinking and chronic stressors, and experienced improved sleep quality.

The study also suggests that women caring for children with serious health conditions should be screened for depression and that CBT can be an important treatment for this population, Hall said.

The study involved 94 female caregivers with high levels of depressive symptoms. Each was randomly assigned to either a control group or an intervention group which received five 45 to 60-minute sessions of CBT.

The participants were given homework that focused on examples of cognitive distortions with positive substitutions, a thoughts log and instructions for practicing relaxation.

“A lot of these women said they felt very isolated and there was no one who would listen to them,” said Catherine Batscha, D.N.P., a 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.”

About 15 million children in the United States have special health care needs and women constitute 72 percent of the caregivers of those children.

Hall presented the study findings at the Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science at the State of the Science Congress on Nursing Research in Washington, D.C.

Source: University of Louisville