Behavioural family therapy used to support system around person with learning disabilities and mental health needs


Studies have suggested a higher incidence of mental health problems in people with learning disabilities, although there are some differences in estimates, which have varied in studies looking at people with learning disabilities who also have a co-morbid psychiatric disorder from 14 to 39%.

There is also evidence of increased likelihood of family members and staff providing support to people in this situation experiencing increased stress.

The researchers were keen to consider whether the evidence from mainstream mental health literature for the positive impact of psycho-educational family interventions on the person with the mental health difficulty and those in their family would be borne out in the field of learning disabilities as there is little published in this area in the learning disabilities literature at the moment.

The authors present a case study which shows how they implemented a family intervention with the support system around a person with someone learning disabilities, autism and chronic mental health difficulties.

They found that on a number of measures following the intervention, the family member involved reported a marked decrease in levels of strain.

They also found that the family and team members reported improvements in functioning within the support system.

In an area without an established evidence base, the use of case studies can illustrate learning and support improvements in clinical practice, and the authors conclude that this case study is a step towards understanding how the use of behavioural family therapy can potentially support the system around people with learning disabilities and mental health needs.

Utilising behavioural family therapy (BFT) to help support the system around a person with intellectual disability and complex mental health needs A case study, Marshall K & Ferris I, in Journal of Intellectual Disabilities, 16, 2, 109-118

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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