CHILDREN AND PARENTS’ EXPERIENCES WITH DISTANCE MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT
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Timely access to child mental health services is a widespread concern. Many children with diagnosable disorders do not receive help. Untreated disorders can cause significant child and family impairment. Barriers to treatment can impede access. Few specialists, long wait lists and clinic-based services can be problematic. Families encounter treatment barriers related to travel (i.e., time off work or school; inconvenience; financial burden), stigma, and child resistance to therapy. Alternative models of care are needed. Distance telephone treatment (e.g., Strongest Families), can bridge the access gap. There is little understanding about the participants’ experience with distance treatment. The research objectives were: 1. to establish if therapeutic alliance exists between a) a parent-coach and b) a child-coach, when distance treatment is delivered by telephone with no face-to-face contact; 2. to explore the parents’ distance experiences and opinions; 3. to develop and validate the Treatment Barrier Index (TBI) scale derived from participants’ experiences; and 4. to use the TBI to examine treatment barrier differences (and therapeutic processes) between two delivery systems (Distance vs Face-to-face). Therapeutic alliance exists between adult-coach and child-coach with distance treatment. Participants found distance treatment to be more private and felt less stigmatized because of visual anonymity, compared to their opinions of face-to-face services. The TBI results indicated fewer perceived barriers with distance treatment. A significant difference was found between delivery systems in terms of perceived barriers, therapeutic alliance and self-disclosure as a group of variables. This suggests that there may be differences in therapeutic processes between systems. Therapeutic alliance scores were enhanced with distance treatment and found to positively correlate with self-disclosure and outcome scores; suggesting that these processes are important in the context of distance intervention. Cost-effective distance systems using non-professionals may be one way to increase access to child mental health services. Although some families may prefer the physical presence of face-to-face services, others prefer distance services. The results from these studies may help to inform system design improvements aimed at increasing service access. Improving models of care to meet participants’ needs could lead to increased service utilization, ultimately improving child health outcome.