In the new study, Emily Feinberg and colleagues at Boston University School of Public Health enrolled 122 mothers of young children recently diagnosed with autism. Fifty-nine received six sessions (30 to 45 minutes each) of a cognitive-behavioral therapy called “problem solving education.”
In each session, mothers worked one-on-one with a therapist to identify a single, measurable problem. Using a workbook, they proceeded through a series of steps that involved goal setting, brainstorming and action planning.
For example, a mother who described feeling lonely might work with the therapist to identify an objective problem such as not being able to find someone to watch her child so she can go out with friends. The mother then sets an achievable goal and outlines steps to achieve it. For instance, she might decide to ask her sister to watch her child after he goes to bed. She also sets a time to call her sister.
To make the counseling practical, it was delivered in the home or clinic where the mothers received the usual parent-training in behavioral therapy for their child. For comparison, the other 63 mothers in the study received only the training on how to work with their children. After three months, the researchers used a series of questionnaires to assess the mothers’ stress levels and symptoms of depression.
According to the results, just 3.8 percent of the mothers who received the problem-solving education had high levels of parental stress at the end of the study. This compared with 29.3 percent of those who received only the usual instructions on how to work with their children. The mothers who received the problem solving education were also less likely to report symptoms of depression. But the difference wasn’t large enough to rule out a chance association.