Chief, Section of Behavioral Oncology
Professor of Pediatrics, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
As a clinical psychologist, my research focuses on ways of helping oncology patients and their families cope and adjust to their medical experiences across the entire course of treatment and beyond. I and my team look at ways to develop and deliver evidence-based psychosocial assessments and interventions in order to lessen the distress that families experience and foster optimal care.
Traumatic stress is one helpful model for understanding psychological responses to illness. Our team at Children's Hospital was one of the originators of the idea that the diagnosis of cancer is a potentially traumatic event for patients and family both. We were among the first to do large studies that show parents of pediatric cancer survivors experience post traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS). Although parents' PTSS symptoms were are less common than during the time their children were being treated, we found that in a majority of families we studied at least one of the parents had moderate to severe PTSS.
In another study, we found that symptoms of PTSS can be reduced with treatment aimed at beliefs about cancer and its treatment, social support and family communication. Among other treatment modalities used at Children's Hospital, we utilize an intervention model called Surviving Cancer Competently Intervention Program (SCCIP.) This treatment model combines cognitive behavior and family treatment to help families work within their beliefs about cancer to feel better.
Our research has led us to better understand the reactions of the child and family as related to their perceptions of the traumatic cancer occurrence. At Children's Hospital, we look at the child in the context of family and social relationships, and we work to address the concerns they have with their treatment. We use evidence-based approaches to test psychosocial needs and address them throughout the cancer experience: from diagnosis and treatment to cancer survivorship or bereavement.
I've always been interested in children and families -- and try to treat the whole patient in the context of the family and related systems. I’m continually impressed with the strengths and competence that families show in the face of potentially overwhelming experiences. My goal is to integrate psychosocial patient and family care into the medical care they receive.
For children and their families, Children's Hospital Division of Oncology has, without question, among the best psychosocial programs in the world. It is built upon the vision of oncology leaders here who saw psychosocial care as an integral part of patient care for pediatric oncology patients.