Siblings of cancer patients can be coached to cope

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A two-session intervention might improve how well a youth adjusts to the cancer diagnosis of a brother or sister. 

Siblings of pediatric cancer patients are at risk for emotional, behavioral, and social problems, according to a team led by Dr. Alice Prchal of the University Children's Hospital Zurich (Switzerland). As they noted in their report in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, the healthy siblings often face changed daily routines in the family and less physical and emotional availability of their parents. These children also observe the physical and emotional pain of their sick brother or sister. These circumstances can generate feelings of fear, loneliness, sadness, anger, jealousy, or guilt within the healthy child.

In their study of 30 siblings of pediatric cancer patients, aged 6 to 17 years, Prchal and colleagues randomized the participants to an active control group with standard psycho-oncological care or to an intervention group. The members of the intervention group received medical information and information on coping with stressful situations in two sessions with Prchal, a clinical psychologist. 

The sessions lasted approximately 50 minutes each and took place during the first 2 months after the ill child's cancer diagnosis—a period shown to be the most vulnerable time for sibling adjustment. In addition, the parents were given an educational booklet. 

The healthy siblings and parents completed measures of social support, quality of life, medical knowledge, posttraumatic stress symptoms, and anxiety at 4 to 6 weeks after the cancer diagnosis and again at the 4-month and 7-month marks. At follow-up, the intervention did not demonstrate any impact on posttraumatic stress symptoms or anxiety. However, siblings in that group showed better psychological well-being, had better medical knowledge, and reported receiving social support from more people. ONA

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