The impact of chronic illness on families: A family systems perspective

J. M. Patterson, Ann E Garwick

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


In this article, a family systems theoretical framework is described for understanding the reciprocal relationships between chronic illness in a family member and the structure and functioning of the family system. The reciprocal impacts between the illness, individual development, and family functioning continue dynamically in a circular pattern of effects over time. Well-adapted families are able to achieve balanced functioning by developing and maintaining their capabilities (resources and coping behaviors) for meeting the continually changing demands (stressors, strains, hassles, chronic illness hardships) they face. This effort to achieve balance is influenced by the meanings families attribute to their situation, as well as to their own identity as a family unit, and to their view of the world. Successful adaptation to chronic illness can best be promoted by focusing on the family system as the unit of intervention. When the family is healthy, the person with chronic illness does better. Families should be encouraged to balance illness needs with other family needs using a style of functioning that is consistent with their existing lifestyle and values.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-142
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1994


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