Easing parental stress through Cognitive-Behavioural Intervention

28 Nov 2023

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Professor Daniel Wong Fu-keung, Chair Professor of HKBU’s Department of Social Work (centre) with representatives from Heep Hong Society.


Being a caregiver can be highly stressful and overwhelming. Parents of preschool children with Special Education Needs (SEN) are especially prone to physical and emotional burnout.

To alleviate the stress of parental caregivers, HKBU’s Department of Social Work collaborated with Heep Hong Society in a joint study – “Project P.S.I. (Parental Stress Intervention): Intervention Strategies for Parental Stress in Preschool Units” – to identify those at risk and invite them to a Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) intervention to improve their social functioning and emotional resilience.

In 2022, the teams conducted a survey on parental stress and resilience. It was found that over half of the 502 interviewed parents showed symptoms of depression, while over 40% of families with SEN children were considered unhealthy and at risk due to their low emotional resilience. As part of the intervention strategy, the study developed a new “Social Ecological Resilience Scale” to identify those in need and enroll them in a CBT programme to enhance their ability to overcome adversities.

CBT participants were given either a 6-session group intervention or 8-session individual intervention depending on their stress severity level. It helped the parents to be more aware of their automatic thought patterns and the relationship between their thoughts, negative emotions, and behaviours during stressful caregiving events. They have also learned how to improve their emotions by changing their thoughts and perceptions, and developing a healthy routine that includes relaxation activities and social time.

Restoring emotional resilience of parents and their children

After receiving the CBT intervention, 91.1% of the parents showed a healthy level of negative emotions, and 76.1% had a high level of resilience, compared to a percentage of 59.6% recorded before the intervention. Moreover, 46.8% of the children have shown a normal level of internalising and externalising symptoms. It supported the fact that CBT is a promising intervention approach for minimising parental stress and mental health symptoms of their children. CBT helps the parents to improve their emotional and cognitive awareness, acquire new techniques to regulate their thought patterns, and establish new experiences in their caregiving role. Not only did they feel more empowered, but their children also showed an encouraging improvement in their ability to tackle difficulties.

Professor Daniel Wong Fu-keung, Chair Professor of HKBU’s Department of Social Work and a prominent CBT expert, highlights the critical correlation between the parents’ emotional well-being and that of their children. “Emotional resilience includes six dimensions: emotional flexibility, coping, self-kindness, common humanity, family support, and social support. When the parents believe that they have more personal and interpersonal resources to overcome caregiving challenges, this has a far-reaching and positive impact on their children’s well-being and resilience level.”

The “Social Ecological Resilience Scale” is developed for use by social workers, teachers, or as a self-assessment by parents, who should seek professional help as soon as possible if their resilience is low.