Public Release: 

Multi-family group treatment studied for spinal cord injury

$289,000 grant aims to help victims cope

Washington State University

SPOKANE, Wash.--Every year, more than 12,000 Americans--mostly young men--suffer spinal cord injuries in car crashes, falls, sports and acts of violence. Those dealing with this life-changing condition may soon have a better way to cope, thanks to a new collaborative research project by Washington State University Spokane and St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute.

"Spinal cord injury impacts so many aspects of a person's health and daily life, and we've recognized that more could be done to support this population," said Dennis Dyck, WSU professor of psychology who leads the project with Douglas Weeks, senior research investigator at St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute.

The researchers will conduct a clinical trial to establish whether multi-family group treatment - a psychoeducational intervention originally developed for schizophrenia - can help improve the quality of life of persons with spinal cord injury and their caregivers. The two-year project is funded through a $289,495 psychosocial research grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, a private grant making foundation that focuses on spinal cord injury research and rehabilitation.

"We want to see if an intervention that provides more focus on psychological support is going to have a positive impact on the lives of patients and their caregivers," said Weeks, adding that spinal cord injury puts particular stress on family members who are suddenly thrust into the role of caregiver.

The research team will recruit 32 people who were discharged from inpatient treatment for spinal cord injury at St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute within the past three years, along with their primary caregivers. Each patient-caregiver team will be randomly assigned to one of two groups: a group that will receive multi-family group treatment - which offers individualized education, support and coping strategies to help manage spinal cord injury - or an active control group that will be given general information in a lecture format.

Both groups will receive six months of treatment led by experienced clinicians at St. Luke's. The first groups will start this summer.

To determine the effectiveness of multi-family group treatment for those living with spinal cord injury, the researchers will measure outcomes in a wide variety of areas, such as participants' physical and psychological health, quality of life and level of involvement in their treatment, as well as the quality of relationships with their caregivers and caregiver burden.

They will compare these outcomes for the treatment group versus the active control group and will also look at participants who have been discharged more recently (up to 18 months prior to the start of the study) versus less recently (18 to 36 months prior).

"We think the individualized, problem-solving approach of multi-family group treatment is going to be helpful overall, but especially so for those who are still new to having to cope with spinal cord injury," said Dyck.

The new project builds on a collaborative study conducted a decade ago that first sought to adapt the multi-family group treatment approach for people with spinal cord injury. That study offered promising preliminary outcomes, but also had some limitations that this new study will address, said Dyck, who also pioneered the use of multi-family group treatment in people with traumatic brain injury and dementia.

If the findings from the new study favor the use of multi-family group treatment for spinal cord injury, the researchers' next step will be to pursue a larger, multi-site clinical trial to further validate the results.

"We hope that, by forming a support system and deepening the coping relationship between the patient and the caregiver, people will be able to adapt to the injury to such a degree that their quality of life is improved," said Weeks.


For more information about WSU Spokane, see For more information about St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute, see

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