Results Summary

What was the research about?

Violent bumps or blows to the head can cause traumatic brain injury, or TBI. Teens may develop TBI from accidents or sports injuries. People with TBI often have headaches, nausea, dizziness, confusion, and mood changes. Some TBIs cause physical, emotional, and behavioral problems that may last a long time and that may be stressful for families. Family problem-solving therapy, or F-PST, teaches skills to help families communicate, manage anger, and adjust to changes in daily life.

In this study, the research team wanted to learn if online F-PST was similar to in-person F-PST in reducing the effects of TBI for teens and their parents. The team compared three ways of offering F-PST to teens and their parents:

  • Online F-PST with a therapist: hour-long video calls with a therapist and online materials, including videos and ways to practice skills learned during the calls
  • Online F-PST without a therapist: access to online materials that teens and parents could go through on their own; this group didn’t meet with a therapist
  • In-person F-PST: hour-long meetings with a therapist at a hospital or clinic and printed materials

What were the results?

In this study, the online and in-person F-PST options had similar results for teens and their parents. Comparing the different ways of offering F-PST, the teens in the three groups didn’t differ in

  • Behaviors, such as mood swings or outbursts of anger
  • Ability to get things done
  • Quality of life
  • TBI symptoms
  • Depression

The study found no difference in parents’ depression or ability to deal with stress.

Who was in the study?

The study included 150 teens ages 14 to 19, treated at one of five TBI centers in Ohio and Colorado, and their parents. All teens had mild to severe TBI with lasting changes in behavior. Of these teens, 83 percent were white, 11 percent were African American, and 7 percent were another race or more than one race; 4 percent were Hispanic. The average age was 16, and 64 percent were teenage boys.

What did the research team do?

The research team assigned teens and their parents, by chance, to get F-PST in one of the three ways. In each approach, families could attend up to 10 sessions about staying positive, solving problems, and controlling emotions. The team offered up to four more sessions on topics such as how to handle a crisis.

Teens and their parents filled out surveys at the start of the study and again six and nine months later. Surveys asked about teens’ behaviors and ability to get things done. Surveys also included questions about quality of life, depression, and TBI symptoms.

Doctors, teens with TBI and their parents, and a web designer helped design and carry out the study.

What were the limits of the study?

After six months, 19 percent of teens and parents hadn’t completed treatment. The number of people who didn’t finish treatment was about the same in each group. On average, families completed only six sessions. Results might have been different if families attended more sessions. Problems with the website and with video calls may have kept teens and parents from viewing programs online or attending online therapy sessions.

Future research could test ways to help more people attend more sessions.

How can people use the results?

Doctors, teens with TBI, and their parents can use these results when considering different options for therapy.

Final Research Report

View this project's final research report.


Peer-Review Summary

Peer review of PCORI-funded research helps make sure the report presents complete, balanced, and useful information about the research. It also assesses how the project addressed PCORI’s Methodology Standards. During peer review, experts read a draft report of the research and provide comments about the report. These experts may include a scientist focused on the research topic, a specialist in research methods, a patient or caregiver, and a healthcare professional. These reviewers cannot have conflicts of interest with the study.

The peer reviewers point out where the draft report may need revision. For example, they may suggest ways to improve descriptions of the conduct of the study or to clarify the connection between results and conclusions. Sometimes, awardees revise their draft reports twice or more to address all of the reviewers’ comments. 

Peer reviewers commented, and the researchers made changes or provided responses. The comments and responses included the following:

  • Reviewers questioned whether study participants received the same level of therapist involvement in the face-to-face and the therapist-guided online delivery of family problem solving treatment. The researchers confirmed that participants spent an equivalent amount of time in both delivery conditions with the therapist, reviewing content and developing plans to address their problems. The researchers revised the report to clarify this fact.
  • Reviewers asked for additional substantiation for the criterion that attendance at 3 or more sessions out of 10-14 in the face-to-face condition constituted program participation. The researchers explained that three sessions were sufficient for the family to receive training in cognitive reframing and problem-solving skills, the focus of the treatment. As additional confirmation, the researchers ran their analysis model with sessions completed as a continuous variable and found no significant differences based on the number of sessions completed.
  • Reviewers asked that the report better address how the researchers handled missing data in analyses. The researchers revised the analytical and statistical approaches portion of the methods section to explain that when they examined the utility of multiple imputation to account for missing data, they found minimal differences between the models with and without multiple imputation for the primary outcomes. Given that multiple imputation on repeated measures of outcomes fails to capture time-specific orderings also, the researchers used mixed models without imputation.  
  • Reviewers asked how the researchers determined that the effect size of 0.5 indicated a minimally clinically important difference (MCID) for the primary outcomes. The researchers explained the 0.5 was equivalent to half a standard deviation change on the primary outcome measures, which is the MCID seen in many clinical studies.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures

Project Information

Shari L. Wade, PhD
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center
Comparative Effectiveness of Family Problem-Solving Therapy for Adolescent Traumatic Brain Injury

Key Dates

December 2013
March 2019

Study Registration Information


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Intervention Strategy Intervention Strategies PCORI funds comparative clinical effectiveness research (CER) studies that compare two or more options or approaches to health care, or that compare different ways of delivering or receiving care. View Glossary
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Last updated: April 11, 2024