Family-focused treatment, also sometimes called family-focused therapy, is a form of psychotherapy that uses the participation of an individual’s family members as a core component of the treatment process. Mental health professionals frequently use this therapeutic approach to treat people affected by various forms of bipolar disorder. According to a study published in August 2013 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, use of one specific form of family-focused treatment—known as the Resourceful Adolescent Parent Program (RAP-P)—may significantly reduce the risks for teen suicide.
Teen Suicide Factors
A number of factors increase the chances that any given person will make a suicide attempt, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Examples of these factors include:
- History of major depression or other serious mental health problems
- Lack of access to proper mental health resources
- Personal or family history of suicidal behavior
- Lack of social connections
- Excessive use of drugs or alcohol
- Failure to seek help for suicidal thinking
- Turbulence within the family home
- Personal history of childhood physical or sexual abuse
Teenagers, in particular, are frequently exposed to additional suicide risk factors such as:
- Social rejection
- Failure to perform well in sports or academics
- Initial experiences with relationship breakups
Family-focused treatment takes its participants through a series of four stages that work together to produce positive therapeutic results. In the initial stage, the patient and his or her family members learn how the treatment achieves its effects. In the second stage, they receive detailed information about the nature of the mental health problem(s) the patient is confronting. In the third stage of family-focused treatment, the therapist leading the sessions uses a range of instructional exercises to improve the communications skills of all participating individuals. In the fourth stage of the therapy, the participants learn problem-solving skills that are directed at improving the ability to deal with the patient’s mental health problem(s).
The Resourceful Adolescent Parent Program
While participating in a Resourceful Adolescent Parent Program, parents take steps to improve their understanding of their children and themselves, and learn how to use this understanding to foster self-esteem in both parent and child. In particular, they learn to identify their positive contributions to their teens’ welfare, how to identify the ways in which stress impedes their parenting efforts and how to successfully combat the effects of that stress. They also learn how to view their children as developing individuals, as well as how to help their children improve their self-images. Teenagers learn a complementary set of skills in a counterpart program called the Resourceful Adolescent Program for Adolescents (RAP-A).
Benefits of RAP-P For Teen Suicide Prevention
In the study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, a team of Australian researchers examined the usefulness of parent participation in RAP-P in reducing the suicidal behaviors of 24 teenagers enrolled in outpatient treatment facilities. They made their first assessments before the teens started receiving treatment and followed up those assessments three months later and six months later. At each of these points, the researchers compared the combined results of RAP-P and standard mental health care in the 24 teens to the results of standard mental health care alone in another group of 24 teens.
After reviewing their findings, the authors of the study made several important conclusions. First, the teens with parents participating in RAP-P generally remained active in their treatment programs for longer amounts of time than the teens whose parents did not participate in RAP-P. These teens also experienced more significant declines in their suicidal behaviors, as well as more significant declines in the symptoms of the mental health problems that occurred in association with those behaviors. These treatment benefits still remained in effect when the six-month follow-up assessment was made.
Parent Participation In Therapy Is Crucial In Preventing Teen Suicidal Behavior
The authors of the study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry concluded that parent participation in the Resourceful Adolescent Parent Program was a critical factor in decreasing the level of suicidal behavior in the study’s teen participants. They believe that this finding points toward an important role for RAP-P and other forms of family-focused treatment in the improvement of suicidal teens’ mental health. However, the authors explicitly state that their conclusions are only preliminary, and acknowledge the need for further research to help determine the true usefulness of family-focused treatment in general and RAP-P in particular.
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