It’s the kind of news that a mother fears the most — learning that her child has been diagnosed with cancer or another serious illness.
Along with the intense strain and worry over the health of her child, a mother also faces the uphill battle of managing the day-to-day stresses of the disease, as well as providing comfort and strength to other siblings.
Effective coping strategies are key to a mother’s mental and physical health, and a new certified intervention promises to provide a better approach to address this need going forward.
The findings of a study presented at the 42nd Congress of the International Society of Pediatric Oncology revealed that an intervention now known as Problem-Solving Skills Training (PSST) has proven more effective for long-term treatment than other methods currently accepted in the industry today.
“In families with more than one child, it’s common for us to counsel with mothers who are stressed about being there for their child in the hospital as well as their children back home,” said Martha Askins, Ph.D., assistant professor at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital in Houston and co-presenter of the report.
“Using PSST, we’ve been able to come up with solutions that address this personal dilemma.”
Conducted through the Psychosocial Adaptation to Childhood Cancer Research Consortium, the study encompassed a multi-institutional randomized trial.
Researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital and Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center of Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach found that the stress scores of mothers introduced to the PSST intervention improved twice as much over a three-month period as those who were not introduced to the new treatment approach. They also sustained that improved level longer.
The study included a comparison of the PSST intervention to a type of one-on-one counseling known as reflective listening. Both interventions proved effective in decreasing stress levels for the short-term, but after three months, mothers taking part in the reflective listening approach were found to have returned to higher stress levels, unlike the mothers receiving PSST.
Notably, the study also revealed that Spanish-speaking mothers responded better to the PSST treatment approach than their English-speaking or Arabic-speaking counterparts.
The PSST approach used in the study encompassed eight, one-hour counseling sessions between a mother of a cancer-stricken child and therapist. During the sessions, the therapist identified the primary stressors the mother was facing, and then both therapist and mother brainstormed potential solutions.
As part of this process, solutions are evaluated based on associated benefits and cost, and a decision is made to implement the best choice. Once implemented, the mother and therapist then regularly evaluate its effectiveness.
The PSST intervention is also recognized as the Bright Ideas program and was designated as a research-tested intervention by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that will be included in the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.
An evaluation of the effectiveness of using a personal digital assistant (PDA) to enhance the intervention was also included as part of study. According to researchers, participants indicated a favorable response to using the PDA, but no other notable benefit was reported from using the devices in association with the PSST program.
Researchers suggested that this finding could still lead to more technology-based interventions going forward.
“Now that we have developed a solid intervention that we know helps mothers cope with stress, we want to create computer-based programs that will provide problem-solving training to parents who may not have access to psychologists or other support systems,” said Askins.