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Family Therapy is More Effective than Standard Treatment for Adolescents with Suicidal Thoughts

Family Therapy is More Effective than Standard Treatment for Adolescents with Suicidal Thoughts

March 4, 2010

Medical Research, Press Releases

NEW YORK, March 1, 2010  — Adolescents with suicidal thoughts and elevated depression have better and faster reduction of symptoms when treated with family therapy than with  private therapy, according to a study by a Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researcher.

Dr. Gary Diamond, a senior lecturer in clinical psychology in the Department of Psychology at BGU, was among the team of researchers reporting these findings in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (Vol. 49, Feb. 2010).

This is the first treatment study for teens with suicidal thoughts to show robust and statistically significant improvement over treatment in private practice or in a conventional community health facility. The research was conducted at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
In this study, patients with severe suicidal thinking who received Attachment-based Family Therapy (ABFT) were four times more likely to have no suicidal thoughts at the end of the treatment or three months after treatment, than patients receiving standard treatment. Patients in ABFT also showed a more rapid decrease in depression symptoms and stayed in treatment longer than in community care.

According to BGU’s Dr. Gary Diamond, one of the primary developers of the ABFT model and member of the research team, “The idea behind ABFT is to improve the quality of the parent-adolescent relationship.  Research has shown that family conflict, criticism and detachment can contribute to adolescents’ suicidal thoughts and acts. On the other hand, family acceptance, love and support decrease the likelihood for suicide by increasing adolescents’ sense of esteem and connection. 

“The goal of the treatment is to help parents empathically enter their child’s world so that the child feels less alone. As intimacy increases, parents are better positioned to provide guidance and advocate for their adolescent as she/he navigates the hurdles of adolescence.”

The researchers studied 66 children between the ages of 12 and 17 who presented in primary care or emergency rooms with severe suicidal thinking and depressive symptoms. The average age was 15; about three quarters were African American and 83 percent were female. Parent participation was required.

“Parents are not viewed as the problem, but as the curative medicine,” Diamond says. “They are the key to keeping lines of communication open in order to monitor against suicidal behavior. And while no treatment is perfect for all patients, helping any family through a youth’s suicide crisis is important.” 

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in American adolescents, accounting for more than 1,300 deaths in youths between the ages of 12 and 18 in 2005.  An additional one million teens attempt suicide each year, leading to high emotional and financial costs to families and the health care system. Few treatment studies in the past have focused on this vulnerable age group or identified treatments with proven results.

Future studies will focus on a broader population of patients, stronger comparison treatments and long-term outcomes to better assess treatment benefits.

A grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supported this research. The co-authors were Guy S. Diamond, Ph.D., director of the Center for Family Intervention Science at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Gregory Brown, Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania; Matthew B. Wintersteen, Ph.D., from Thomas Jefferson University; Robert Gallop, Ph.D., from West Chester University; Gary M. Diamond, Ph.D., from Ben-Gurion University of Negev, Israel; Karni Shelef, Ph.D., of Achva Academic College of Israel; and Suzanne Levy, Ph.D., from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

About American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU) plays a vital role in sustaining David Ben-Gurion’s vision: creating a world-class institution of education and research in the Israeli desert, nurturing the Negev community and sharing the University’s expertise locally and around the globe. Activities include showcasing BGU’s academic excellence and cutting-edge research through educational programs, events and informative communications. AABGU’s main purpose is to support Ben-Gurion’s vision and the university that bears his name by creating a community of Americans committed to improving the world tomorrow from the heart of the Israeli desert today.

Media Contact:
Andrew Lavin
A. Lavin Communications