Objective: Chronic illness of a child puts healthy children of the family at risk of distress. Previous studies have demonstrated that healthy children's psychological symptoms can be reduced when the child knows more about the disease. So far, there is limited evidence of the effectiveness of psychoeducational interventions for healthy children.
Aims: To compare the effectiveness of an inpatient family‐oriented rehabilitation program with vs without additional psychoeducational sessions for healthy children of families with children with cancer.
Patients and methods: We performed a controlled study in 4 German family‐oriented rehabilitation clinics. The outcomes of n = 73 healthy children (mean age: M = 9.55; SD = 3.14; range: 4–18), who participated in 5 additional psychoeducational sessions, were compared with the outcomes of n = 111 healthy children (mean age: M = 8.85; SD = 3.28; range: 4–17), who underwent the usual inpatient rehabilitation program. Primary outcomes were the healthy children's cancer‐specific knowledge and their emotional symptoms. Secondary outcomes were family satisfaction and quality of life.
Results: Intention‐to‐treat analyses showed that both groups improved significantly from preintervention to postintervention. Improvements comprised knowledge about cancer (F(1,174) = 11.03, p < 0.001), self‐reported emotional symptoms (F(1,135) = 31.68, p < 0.001), and parent‐proxy‐reported emotional symptoms (F(1,179) = 37.07, p < 0.001). The additional psycho‐educational program did not significantly enhance the outcomes. The same pattern of significant improvement in both conditions emerged for all secondary outcomes. The immediate effects of the intervention persisted until 2 months after discharge from the rehabilitation program.
Conclusions: Inpatient family‐oriented rehabilitation is effective in improving multiple psychosocial outcomes of healthy children in families which have a child with cancer. Additional psycho‐educational sessions did not show any substantial additional improvement.