Living with a chronic illness is challenging at any age, but can be especially daunting, physically and psychologically, for teens. “For adolescents and young adults (AYAs), the ongoing management of chronic illness can impose physical, emotional, and financial dependence at the time when increasing autonomy is the developmental goal,” said Ursula M. Sansom-Daly ofthe School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “During this stage, individuals engage in identity formation, establish social competence, balance family and peer influences, develop and explore sexuality, and adapt to emerging intellectual abilities. Not achieving these significant milestones places individuals at heightened risk for poor adaptation within their future adult roles.” Additionally, pain from the illness and side effects resulting from treatment, also impair the teens’ ability to achieve normal levels of social functioning. Sansom-Daly said, “It appears that a young person’s capacity to negotiate the effects of their illness, while navigating complex social relationships, is key to successfully managing these developmental disruptions.”
Although there is little research that focuses on interventions for AYAs, the past several years have yielded more studies examining effective treatment for this segment of the population. Sansom-Daly gathered data that spanned 30 years from 25 interventions for chronically ill teens. “Studies that measured positive growth (e.g., coping, self-efficacy, well-being) rather than only indexing distress levels seemed to have a higher proportion of significant outcomes, suggesting that both aspects to adjustment are important to assess in this generally resilient group,” said Sansom-Daly. “A key finding of this review is the importance of teaching skills—particularly communication skills—and including practical (e.g., role-play, homework exercises) elements both in- and between sessions. Unlike peer-support programs, in skills-based interventions, participants not only gain benefits through sharing disease-related thoughts and emotions, but also by learning ways to identify and change maladaptive thought and behavior patterns.” She added, “Discipline specific training in these professions may further increase the likelihood that modeling, role-playing, and other interactive practice elements may be used in an intervention, or enhance the interventionist’s confidence in doing so.
Sansom-Daly, U. M., Peate, M., Wakefield, C. E., Bryant, R. A., & Cohn, R. J. (2011, November 7). A Systematic Review of Psychological Interventions for Adolescents and Young Adults Living With Chronic Illness. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025977
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