NIH grant bolsters study of mindfulness and teens in high-conflict homes

Assistant Professor Rachel Lucas-Thompson has received a prestigious Mentored Research Scientist Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health for her research on how mindfulness techniques can help teens in high-conflict homes.

Rachel Lucas-Thompson
Rachel Lucas-Thompson

Research has shown that teens exposed to frequent and hostile interactions between their parents often experience anxiety, depression and difficulties managing other stresses in their lives. Usually, marital counseling is used to reduce the conflict itself, but there is limited evidence that such an approach helps the teens. Lucas-Thompson and her colleagues plan to employ “Learning 2 Breathe,” an intervention developed for adolescents by Patricia Broderick at Pennsylvania State University.

“Learning 2 Breathe works very well with teens, who also really like the program,” Lucas-Thompson said. “But for programs like these to work, people need to use the skills they learn in their daily lives, and it can be hard to make those lifestyle changes. This supplement should help teens transfer what they learn in the group meetings into making meaningful changes in their real lives.”

Mindfulness exercises

Lucas-Thompson, who is in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, is researching the effects of having teens use mindfulness exercises like meditation and focusing on one’s breathing to live in the present, not worry about the future or ruminate on the past.

She is using the $650,000 in NIH funding to test the effects of the mindfulness intervention, and to develop a web-based supplement that teens can use at home, outside of the group mindfulness program. That supplement to in-person meetings will allow the teens to receive texts that can serve as encouragement or reminders, for example. It will also provide them with access to an on-demand digital library of resources they can turn to in times of need, like when they are experiencing anxiety, stress, or sleeplessness.

Doug Coatsworth
Doug Coatsworth

Lucas-Thompson and her mentor, HDFS Professor Doug Coatsworth, director of the CSU Prevention Research Center, hosted a training session in October on Learning 2 Breathe, the evidence-based intervention she’s using in the study. The training for CSU graduate students, faculty and staff — as well as teachers and administrators from the Poudre, Aurora and Denver school districts — was led by Broderick.

Use in schools

The session was intended to train those who will be administering Learning 2 Breathe in the research project as well as expand its use in local schools, which PSD is particularly interested in doing, Coatsworth said.

“Mindfulness programs are being implemented widely in schools, from kindergarten to 12th grade, and Learning 2 Breathe is one of the programs that is being researched carefully,” Coatsworth said. “Rachel’s study is an innovative approach to both improve the program’s usefulness and to reach teens who might need to use the strategies for a specific issue they are dealing with – family conflict.”

The Prevention Research Center is becoming a regional training center for the Learning 2 Breathe program, which is delivered around the country and world. Coatsworth will attend a training session with Broderick in New York Feb. 12-13 to finalize that plan.

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

Training group

The group that attended the training session in October.