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Researchers to introduce behavior intervention program within clinic

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JOHNSON CITY (July 23, 2014) – An innovative program called “The Family Checkup” is being used by mental health experts to help parents address behavior problems in children.  This assessment and intervention project brings together nearly 10 years of evidence-based research and it is designed to be implemented over the course of just two sessions.

So far, the program has only been used within schools, but researchers at East Tennessee State University are interested in seeing how “The Family Checkup” will be received within the primary care setting.

Dr. Jodi Polaha, an associate professor of psychology, is part of a team at ETSU that is piloting this new study, which will be conducted at the ETSU Physicians and Associates – Pediatrics clinic.

“‘The Family Checkup’ has proven to be a great resource for helping parents deal with issues such as aggression, defiance, acting out or disobedience by using best-practice approaches,” Polaha said.  “The sessions are led by a behavior health specialist, who works with the parents to identify what they perceive as their strengths and weaknesses, and then uses that assessment to develop a plan for addressing the behavior.

“And, research has shown that we are able to give parents the tools they need in only a couple of sessions,” she said.  “This is a tremendous advantage, because there are other therapeutic approaches that span several weeks and many sessions.  That puts time demands on parents, and they may not be able to attend all of the sessions.”

“‘The Family Checkup’ has worked well in school systems because teachers were able to identify students that might benefit from the program and then refer parents to the mental health specialist,” said Dr. Karen Schetzina, an associate professor of pediatrics at the James H. Quillen College of Medicine and co-investigator of the project.  “But we also think this program would work very well in the primary care setting, where these behaviors often surface.

A recent study conducted by the researchers found that approximately 25 percent of patients in one pediatrics clinic demonstrated “clinically significant psychological concerns.”

“The family pediatrician is a person the parents trust,” Schetzina added.  “They see that person often, especially during the first five years of the child’s life, and they often turn to the pediatrician for guidance on how to deal with these behavior problems.”

In this new study, doctors at ETSU Physicians and Associates – Pediatrics will learn about “The Family Checkup,” recommend the program to parents as needed and arrange a referral with a behavioral health care specialist.

“Our ultimate goal for this study is to see how well the program is received when the referral is made by a pediatrician,” Polaha said.

Helping children address psychological concerns at an early age can prevent further and possibly more serious problems during adolescence, added Dr. Katie Baker, an assistant professor of community and behavioral health in ETSU’s College of Public Health.

“Data clearly show that antisocial behaviors that go untreated are likely to only get worse and put the child at risk for other problems, such as substance abuse,” said Baker, who is also part of the study.

Polaha says she is very pleased with the interprofessional approach of the study and by the training opportunities it will provide to students and medical residents at ETSU.  The faculty members will supervise the study while the screenings, assessments and data collection will be done by graduate students in clinical psychology and public health and by medical students and residents.

She added that this is one of a number of new initiatives at ETSU Physicians and Associates – Pediatrics designed to enhance well-child visits for children in the practice.

For more information, call 423-439-4614.

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