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By: Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT

Sunrise Ocean

Adapted photo: Pixabay[Sunrise Ocean Sea Coast by MartyNZ, November 7, 2015,CCO]

OneOp Family Development, Family Transitions, Nutrition and Wellness, and Military Caregiving teams presented the second and last part of a two-part series on chronic illness titled “Chronic Illness: Empowering Families in the Journey”. Dr. Mendenhall provided us with a brief recap of part 1 and new ways to harness resources, techniques to provide support, and strategies to utilize resilience. Additionally, the case study from part 1 was revisited and a new case study introduced. 

Dr. Mendenhall spent a large amount of time discussing Strategies for Engagement, which are listed below:

  • Advancing Agency
  • Enhancing Communication
  • (Always) connecting the mind and the body
  • Eliciting illness histories and meanings
  • Respecting defenses, removing blame, and accepting unacceptable feelings
  • Facilitating communication
  • Attending to developmental issues
  • Reinforcing non-illness identity
  • Providing psychoeducation and support
  • Maintaining an empathic presence

The participants were asked the following question and gave the following responses:

Q: What are your best practices when working with healthcare teams? 


  • Communicate what each team member “sees” in weekly meetings to help us all “see” the bio-psychosocial whole of our Veteran. 
  • We have interdisciplinary team meetings and we discuss issues at those. 
  • By having an open dialogue with the family, finding out where they are, what and who they are talking to for assistance. 
  • Talk to patients and then to one another on the healthcare team about what the patients’ goals are and how we can best help them meet those goals. Maybe for some people who are very motivated and interested in nutrition, helping them work on their diet will help, but for others, quality of life comes from having time and focus on family, hobby, etc. Maybe keeping a food diary would help, maybe it would just add more stress and anxiety to their lives. What do they really want to accomplish? It takes the whole team to figure out what parts we can play to help them.

Towards the end of the webinar, we were introduced to Bella, a 4-year old little girl with a serious heart condition. The following was the case study presented:

Bella (age 4) is the daughter of Nick (30) and Laurie (29). Bella has a younger brother, Luke (10 months). The family has recently moved to Atlanta from a small town in South Georgia due to Bella’s medical needs and the fact that all of her specialists are in Atlanta. 
Bella has been diagnosed with a rare heart condition called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). She has had several surgeries since birth and has recently been put on the heart transplant list due to her declining health and most recent lab work. Bella gets fatigued quite easily and has to have a nurse in her home around the clock to monitor her vitals. She is on supplemental oxygen. 
Bella’s mother had to quit her job in order to take care of Bella the way that both she and Nick would like for her to be cared for. This caused a significant decrease in their income and has recently made Laurie feel guilty. When they learned that they were pregnant with Luke, it came as a surprise to them both. Although they love Luke very much, both Nick and Laurie feel a tremendous amount of guilt that they are unable to attend to him as much as they do Bella. They have recently moved to Atlanta to be closer to Bella’s team of doctors and to have access to more healthcare options for her. However, both Nick and Laurie’s entire support system was left behind in South Georgia. 

We asked the following questions and would love to hear your answers and feedback on this blog post!

  • What are the strengths of this family?
  • What seems to be the common stressors experienced by this family?
  • How can we as service professionals empower the family? In what ways?
  • What tools/resources would be beneficial to share with the family?
  • What strategies mentioned in this two-part webinar would be beneficial in helping this family?

We would love to see your responses to the questions above about Bella and any other feedback you would like to share pertaining to the information in this blog and part 1 blog

This post was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT, the Social Media and Programming Coordination Specialist for the OneOp Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about OneOp Family Development concentration on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.