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Internet-Delivered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Tailored to Spouses and Significant Others of Public Safety Personnel: Formative Evaluation Study

Authors: Hadjistavropoulos, H.D., Reiser, S.J., Beahm, J.D., McCall, H.C., Dena, I., Phillips, A.R., Scheltgen, M., Sekhar, S., Cox, M., Cramm, H., & Reid, N. 2023.

Topics: ICBT

PSP Family

Why was the study done?

Spouses and significant others (SSOs) of public safety personnel (PSP) are affected by the demands of public safety work and their provision of emotional and instrumental support for their PSP significant other. PSPNET Families has tailored internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy (ICBT) to SSOs to help address the increased rates of mental health challenges within this population and the lack of accessible support that recognizes their unique challenges. The current study was done to assess the initial use and perceptions of a self-guided ICBT course designed for Canadian SSOs of PSP and to identify opportunities to further tailor ICBT for SSOs.

What was done in the study?

  • SSOs completed online screening questionnaires before they accessed the course materials and were asked to complete questionnaires again at 2, 4, 6, and 8 weeks after enrollment.
  • SSOs were invited to complete a 5-lesson, self-guided ICBT course – the Spouse or Significant Other Wellbeing Course (SSO Wellbeing Course). Each lesson contained:
    • A slideshow
    • Downloadable and printable readings and activities
    • Frequently asked questions
    • Illustrative fictional case stories of individuals who took the course, and
    • Additional resources
  • After 6 weeks of enrollment, SSOs were invited for a semi-structured interview designed to gain feedback on their experience with the course.
  • To support the safety of clients, PSPNET Families clinicians completed weekly safety checks to monitor elevated symptoms and followed up with clients by phone if potential safety concerns were identified.

What did we find out?

  • At enrollment,
    • 98% of SSOs indicated that they were currently married or in a relationship with PSP.
    • 53% of SSOs indicated that their significant other is or was employed in the police sector.
    • 46% of SSOs had elevated scores in at least one symptom area (i.e., anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress).
    • 43% of SSOs reported relationship dissatisfaction.
    • 57% of SSOs reported moderate relationship functioning.
  • 60% of SSOs accessed most lessons and the most commonly used additional resource was Communication with a Significant Other.
  • 88% of SSOs who were interviewed reported believing ICBT is helpful.
  • Overall, the results indicated that many SSOs of PSP had positive perceptions of ICBT tailored to their needs and found several aspects of the SSO Wellbeing Course helpful.

Where do we go from here?

  • Findings from this study provide initial evidence for the use of tailored ICBT to support the mental health of SSOs in Canada. Future research could expand to include therapist-assisted ICBT programs for SSOs and compare use, perceptions, and outcomes between self-guided and therapist-guided ICBT for SSOs.
  • Future research should also be conducted to investigate both short- and long-term symptom changes and potential impacts on the changes in relationship satisfaction and function.

Original Story

Internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy tailored to spouses and significant others of public safety personnel: Formative evaluation study. Read publication here.

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