Parents of autistic kids can get free counseling
For a parent, raising an autistic child can be an all-consuming undertaking, said Brent Bradley, associate professor and director of the family therapy program at University of Houston-Clear Lake.
Little room is left for maintaining a healthy marriage.
There is literature that says the divorce rate is as high as 78 percent in these families," Bradley said.
Now Bradley and the university are in a place to help these parents mend and strengthen their marriages.
UH-Clear Lake's Marriage and Family Therapy Program is launching a pilot research project that will provide the parents of autistic children 12 weeks of free couple's counseling. Participants will meet for an hour and 15 minutes weekly.
They need it so badly, but there's hardly anything in couples counseling research about counseling couples in this context," Bradley said. Therapists and researchers all over the country will hopefully see this, and this can be a blueprint for them."
The sessions will be led by upper-level graduate students who've been trained by Bradley, and he will observe and provide guidance from behind a two-way mirror.
Onsite babysitting will be provided for those who cannot make their own arrangements.
Bradley was first inspired to develop this project after speaking to Dr. Jennifer Fritz with the applied behavioral analysis department about the university's new Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities.
The center supports research, trains current and future professionals and provides services to autistic children and their families.
When Bradley learned the center does not offer his specialty, couples counseling, he volunteered to develop a pilot research project in that area.
The project will employ couple's therapy that focuses on strengthening partners' emotional bonds by identifying and transforming the key moments that foster a loving relationship.
Anger is not the enemy of couples," Bradley said. Some couples argue and fight but remain emotionally connected. Those who fight and disconnect are the ones in trouble. What we do is create an emotional bond between partners."
Participating couples must have access to transportation to the university campus at 2700 Bay Area Blvd. They must be able to attend all 12 treatment sessions, and both partners must be willing to participate.
The project will start with 20 couples. Prospective participants will undergo a preliminary screening. Those who cannot participate in the project will be referred to the clinic's low-cost therapy program.
Sarah McConnell, a graduate student in marriage and family therapy, has already started taking calls from parents interested in the counseling.
In general, they're just really hungry for it," McConnell said.
People have told me, we're getting to the point where it's getting very hard. It's obvious we're addressing a real need."
The research project is set to begin this month, but those interested in participating are asked to contact the research team in advance by e-mailing UHCLCouplesResearch@gmail.com or calling 281-283-3304.
Both the number and e-mail are confidential and only will be accessed by authorized research assistants. Visit www.holdmetight.net.
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