The psychological effects of pediatric illness on healthy siblings

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Clinical Psychology


Department of Psychology


Advisor: Keri Kirschman


This study examines the long-term psychological effects of pediatric illness on healthy siblings. Previous researchers differ substantially in their findings on how individuals are affected by having a sibling with a chronic pediatric illness. Some studies assert that chronic illness, though a stressor for healthy siblings, results in benefits such as higher levels of empathy, coping skills, and family cohesiveness. Other researchers find more negative effects such as elevations in academic and behavioral problems and declinations in parental support, and quality of life. Because the literature lacks consensus on how individuals adapt to illness in a sibling, the present research is designed to address both positive and negative effects including empathy, depression, anxiety, and the health of the sibling relationship. The sample for this research is comprised of individuals currently attending college. At present, college students as a specific demographic group have not yet been investigated as siblings of those with pediatric illnesses. Recruiting students from the University of Dayton, 30 participants with a sibling who has a chronic illness and 31 participants with healthy siblings completed a series of questionnaires. The series included a demographics questionnaire along with measures of empathy, depression, anxiety, and sibling closeness. Results indicate that individuals with a sibling who has an illness experience higher levels of empathy. Further, participant gender was determined to be a predictor of empathy in these individuals while age of the sibling at diagnosis and sibling closeness were not. No differences in depression, anxiety, and sibling closeness existed between groups. These findings partially support the premise that pediatric chronic illness has long term effects on healthy siblings, but more research is needed to further develop our understanding of the effect of chronic illness on familial relations across time.


Chronically ill children Family relationships, Chronic diseases in children Psychological aspects, Brothers and sisters, Empathy

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Copyright © 2009, author