Family Group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Offers Hope for Children of Depressed Parents

Depression affects approximately 7.5 million adults. Because of this, nearly 15 million children currently live with a depressed parent. These children are nearly four times more likely to develop depression as a result, and treating this group of adults and children is a major health priority. Bruce E. Compas, of the Department of Psychology and Human Development at Vanderbilt University, led a study to determine if family group cognitive behavioral (FGCB) prevention intervention could lower this staggering statistic. His team enrolled 111 parents, all who had experienced at least one major depressive episode (MDD) during the life of their child, and 155 children for the study. The children, 70 girls and 85 boys, were between the ages of 9 and 15.

The researchers used various diagnostic tools to assess symptoms of anxiety and depression in the children, and used the The Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia for School-Age Children – Present and Lifetime Version, to interview the youths. Parents were evaluated with the Beck Depressive Inventory. The participants were divided into two groups, one receiving FGCB for eight weeks, the other receiving the written information intervention, a method by which written educational and assessment information is mailed to children and parents. The participants were assessed again at 18 and 24 months after the completion of their respective treatments.

The research revealed that “Children in the FGCB condition were significantly lower in self-reports of anxiety/depression and internalizing symptoms at 18 months and were significantly lower in self-reports of externalizing symptoms at 18 and 24 months.” The researchers added, “The most striking finding for the current study is found in the rates of MDD over 24 months, which were reduced by more than half in children in the FGCB intervention (14.3%) as compared with children in the WI condition (32.7%).” The concluded, “However, more important, 66.7% of the parents in the WI condition and 55.0% of parents in the FGCB intervention experienced at least one recurrence of MDD over the 24-month follow-up period. These rates are strikingly high, reflecting the recurrent nature of depression in adulthood. They underscore the potential importance of teaching children skills to cope with the chronic and recurrent stress that is likely to accompany recurrent episodes of depression in their parents.”

Compas, Bruce E., Jennifer C. Thigpen, Emily J. Hardcastle, David A. Cole, Jennifer Potts, Kelly H. Watson, Kristen Reeslund, Jessica Fear, Rex Forehand, Gary Keller, Aaron Rakow, Christina Colletti, Emily Garai, Laura McKee, M. J. Merchant, and Lorinda Roberts. “Family Group Cognitive–Behavioral Preventive Intervention for Families of Depressed Parents: 18- and 24-Month Outcomes.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 79.4 (2011): 488-99. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Heath.t


    August 15th, 2011 at 11:47 PM

    I was just wondering…Parents and kids no longer spend the kind of time together they used to a few decades ago, there is less of a connection now than ever between parents and kids.and yet to have depression from parents being passed on to kids,its not only about interacting with the person or spending time with them but the whole environment of the house that comes into play…what do you think?

  • tyler


    August 16th, 2011 at 4:16 AM

    You would not think that the kids of depressed parents would have so much hope in that they would not end up at some point in their lives experiencing depression too.

  • WP


    August 16th, 2011 at 1:07 PM

    Family therapy sounds great because normally what happens is a person goes into therapy and everyone including himself starts prejudicing that only he has a problem and then things change.

    So in this technique that risk is not present and everybody can interact with the therapist,who will also get a god idea about the entire family.

  • matt b

    matt b

    August 17th, 2011 at 11:48 AM

    am always a fan of group or team based techniques to anything.

    what it does is it not only trains every individual but also teaches them to do the entire job in a cooperative manner thereby maximizing the cumulative results.

    be it on a field or in a family,getting along with each other is very important.

  • Constance White

    Constance White

    August 20th, 2011 at 11:39 PM

    Where is that 15 million number coming from? I’d like to know how that was calculated please. If this is based on a kind of “Average home has 1.5 kids” logic then I’m sure the number is off by several million since it assumes the following.

    1: It’s only one half of a couple that’s depressed. They both could be.

    2: Each depressed person has exactly two kids.

  • Leila Joy

    Leila Joy

    August 21st, 2011 at 4:45 PM

    @Constance: I thought the math was debatable as well. It would make more sense to me if those numbers were switched. However, even if you make the number more reasonable to say 8 million kids, that’s still 8 million children living with a parent who suffers depression sadly, and the cycle continues.

  • joanna calhoun

    joanna calhoun

    August 21st, 2011 at 5:51 PM

    @Leila Joy: Pardon me for asking. Where did you get your allegedly more reasonable number of 8 million from? You can’t expect us to take your reduced number more seriously than theirs unless you back it up with your formula.

    Prove to me why theirs is incorrect and yours isn’t. I can pull a number out of thin air too if I want. 10 million. See, I just did. :)

  • Dionne Clinton

    Dionne Clinton

    August 22nd, 2011 at 6:39 PM

    Have you noticed that many negative things are cyclical in families? I guess there’s where the phrase “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” originates from.

    Drug use is passed on, kids of alcoholics might end up trying alcohol, abuse continues, depression spreads. They spread like a contagious disease and these children struggle valiantly to contend with that so as not have history repeat itself.

    Bless their hearts. I’m very glad programs like this have demonstrated such success.

  • P. Vance

    P. Vance

    August 22nd, 2011 at 7:54 PM

    @Heath.t.: I would love to spend more time with my teens. However they start school early and I start work at 11. I come home at 7pm. I have to make packed lunches for them, and they have social lives that I don’t want to lord it over them any more than I absolutely have to. I trust my kids and we have a nice home environment because of that trust.

    We’re not rich but no-one’s starving or going without what they need either. Being a single father is a daunting challenge. We all spend a little more time together on weekends to catch up.

  • wendy benedict

    wendy benedict

    August 22nd, 2011 at 8:26 PM

    Children are extremely sensitive to and learn from their surroundings how family life is supposed to be. They take on the traits of the household they grow up in because until they are older and venture outside their home more into the homes of others, they don’t know that there are differences.

    Happy homes make happy children and horrid homes don’t typically. Good to see these children are getting intervention at an early age that’s helping via the FGCB program.

  • X.N.


    August 22nd, 2011 at 11:31 PM

    @tyler– I am the son of an alcoholic father. According to one statistic I read children of alcoholics are four times more likely than other children to become alcoholics. I think this is false for the sole reason that I can control my drinking. I very rarely drink, and I stop if I even feel slightly inebriated. I’m apparently in the minority however.

    The difference between that and depression is that you choose to drink alcohol, but you don’t choose to become depressed. And none of us have to be a chip off the old block.

  • ron colbert

    ron colbert

    August 23rd, 2011 at 12:27 AM

    @WP: If everyone is getting therapy, they can get a lot of things off their chest at once. Sometimes all you need is a really good day of venting to get it all out, to have carte blanche to come out and say what is bothering you instead of beating around the bush all the time.

    That goes for both the parents and the children. They can do so within a supportive environment like that and probably never would have dreamed of doing so if they had all just been at home sitting on the sofa together.

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