A systematic review of psychological interventions for adolescents and young adults living with chronic illness

Health Psychol. 2012 May;31(3):380-93. doi: 10.1037/a0025977. Epub 2011 Nov 7.


Objective: There is increasing recognition that adolescents and young adults (AYAs) with chronic illnesses experience common psychological challenges. This article reviewed published psychological interventions for AYAs with cancer, diabetes, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, sickle cell disease, and asthma. Common, efficacious intervention components were examined to generate clearer recommendations for future age-appropriate, evidence-based intervention development.

Methods: Five databases including MEDLINE, MEDLINE In Process & Non-Indexed Citations, PsycINFO, EMBASE, and CINAHL, were searched for studies involving AYAs aged 10-30 years, using quantitative two-group methods, published from 1979-2010. Of 1,233 abstracts, 87 were extracted for further analysis and a final 25 studies were eligible for inclusion. Thirteen of these studies included AYAs with diabetes, 7 studies involved AYAs with cancer, and 5 included AYAs with other illnesses.

Results: Educational interventions showed some significant positive results, particularly when targeted knowledge outcomes were measured. Several skills-based programs, some including parents, showed positive results, with moderate effect sizes. Interventions which taught communication skills, incorporated practical components (e.g., role-plays, homework), involved ≥6 sessions, and spanned at least 3 months in length, appeared more likely to achieve positive outcomes.

Conclusions: Skills-based interventions delivered over multiple sessions may yield the most positive results in AYAs with chronic illness. Given the few peer-support groups eligible for review, their efficacy remains unclear. This review points to the need for intervention development that teaches adaptive coping skills, is grounded in theoretical frameworks, and adheres to strict randomization and independent assessments to evaluate efficacy in assisting AYAs adjust to chronic illness.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Chronic Disease / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parents
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Peer Group
  • Young Adult