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New England Psychologist: UMass Medical School’s support program helps siblings, parents of children hospitalized for mental illness

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UMass Medical School’s Sibling Support Program encourages siblings of children undergoing inpatient mental health treatment to talk about what is happening at home, Emily Rubin, MA, creator and director of the program, told New England Psychologist.

“Kids develop a new language about what happens in their families. It’s hard to talk about,” said Rubin, a lecturer in psychiatry at UMass Medical School. “People struggle with that issue all of the time. Is it okay to tell others when your sibling is hospitalized?

“A lot of times, kids are told not to tell the truth and we try to undo that. There is a delicate balance between being honest while at the same time respecting privacy,” Rubin said in the March 1 New England Psychologist article.

Rubin developed the Sibling Support Program: A Family-Centered Mental Health Initiative at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center to address the complex needs of families during a child’s psychiatric crisis. The evidence-based program aims to improve outcomes for siblings of psychiatrically involved children and adolescents. The goals of the program are: building resiliency and decreasing trauma for siblings, stabilizing families by teaching parents strategies to support siblings, educating clinicians and trainees about best practices in providing family centered mental health care, and reducing hospital re-admissions.

The Sibling Support Program is now being offered as part of the Child and Adolescent Inpatient Mental Health Program at the Franciscan Hospital for Children. The Sibling Support Program is one of the most rewarding support methods he has been a part of, Ralph Buonopane, PhD, program director, told New England Psychologist.

The Sibling Support Program is successful because it builds a sense of belonging for siblings and parents and “helps chip away at the stigma” they feel, Buonopane said in the article.

“Our philosophy of care throughout the hospital is to support the whole family and this (program) really fits that,” Buonopane told New England Psychologist.

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