Maternal and Child Acceptability of a Proposed Guided Imagery Therapy Mobile App Designed to Treat Functional Abdominal Pain Disorders in Children: Mixed-Methods Predevelopment Formative Research

JMIR Pediatr Parent. 2018 Jun 29;1(1):e6. doi: 10.2196/pediatrics.8535.


Background: Functional abdominal pain disorders are chronic abdominal pain conditions, which affect up to 20% of children worldwide. Of the various functional abdominal pain disorder treatment modalities, psychological therapies such as guided imagery therapy appear most effective. However, there are significant barriers to receiving psychological therapies, including access to trained therapists. Alternatively, remotely delivered psychological therapies for functional abdominal pain disorders have been efficacious.

Objective: The objective of our study was to assess acceptability of a proposed guided imagery therapy app designed to treat functional abdominal pain disorders through remote delivery of prerecorded audio sessions and to evaluate user preferences for using such an app.

Methods: Using a mixed-methods approach, we conducted a predevelopment formative study among children aged 7 to 12 years with a functional abdominal pain disorder and their parents. The parents completed our modified Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) questionnaire, which quantified behavioral intention and related factors for using a guided imagery therapy app. Dyads participated in separate in-person semistructured interviews to assess their attitudes toward and preferences for a guided imagery therapy app. Questionnaire and interview findings were collected concurrently, analyzed separately, and then integrated through methods triangulation.

Results: Among the 15 participating parent-child dyads, 5 (33%) children were Hispanic and 11 (73%) had irritable bowel syndrome. They had diverse socioeconomic status. All parent participants were mothers. The TAM questionnaire indicated that mothers scored favorably on behavioral intention to use a guided imagery therapy app (mean score 12.0, SD 2.6, possible range 3-15). Scores for the TAM factors perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, hedonic motivation, compatibility, and habit also were favorable. Maternal interviews confirmed positive attitudes toward the proposed app. They advocated a visual component to hold their child's attention during the guided imagery therapy sessions; recommended incorporating background sounds into the sessions; favored session reminder notifications from the app; and thought the best time for their child to listen to the sessions would be in the evening or before bed. The child interviews also confirmed positive attitudes toward the proposed app. They suggested guided imagery therapy session topics such as sports and adventures; listening to sessions in their bedroom; and the need for parental supervision to install the app on their mobile device. Integration of the quantitative and qualitative methods findings complimented one another on acceptability. The favorable behavioral intention TAM score aligned well with expressed positive maternal and child attitudes toward the app and can be explained by the desire to avoid medications. The questionnaire and interviews also confirmed therapeutic benefit as an intrinsic motivator to promote routine use.

Conclusions: A guided imagery therapy app designed to treat pediatric patients with functional abdominal pain disorders appears to be acceptable to both mothers and children. Incorporating parent and child preferences into a guided imagery therapy app could promote therapeutic compliance and increase access to optimal care.

Keywords: Technology Acceptance Model; functional abdominal pain disorders; guided imagery therapy; imagery (psychotherapy); mixed methods; mobile applications; parents; pediatrics.