The relationship between family resilience and the successful management of fibromyalgia

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Marriage and Family Therapy


Family resilience, Fibromyalgia, Pain management, Chronic pain

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society | Medicine and Health | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) is one of the most troubling rheumatic disorders for patients, significant others, and the health care providers who treat them. The widespread chronic pain which characterizes FMS seems to surface at random, or may be easily magnified by physical and emotional stress, anxiety, and depression. To date, no empirical evidence is available that explains the etiology of the illness; therefore, a medical cure has proven elusive. Current interventions have proven marginally helpful in reducing symptoms. Because of this, FMS patients tend to make repeated attempts at easing their suffering and thus often require regular medical services. This study reflects the first step in the process of developing and testing a new biopsychosocial systems based treatment for fibromyalgia.

This study investigates the relationship between family resilience and the management of fibromyalgia using measurements of health problems/functional disability, pain coping skills, and consequent medical utilization as indicators. A sample of 150 participants were recruited via internet postings to major FMS websites, e-mail listserves, and electronic bulletin boards on the internet. The results of the study suggest that as the levels of family stressors, strains, and distress increase in the family, health problems/functional disability increase for the FMS patient. Family hardiness and family social support were associated with a reduction in health problems/functional disability. Family stressors and family strains were also positively associated with the frequency of medication use. Family social support, family hardiness, and family coherence were positively related to the use of effective pain coping strategies.

The results of this research provides solid support for the utility of using the biopsychosocial systems perspective to understand how differing family dynamics affect individual patients' management of FMS symptoms. Medical family therapy interventions that consider the fibromyalgia patients' familial context in relation to the severity of symptoms are recommended for treatment as an alternative to or in addition to current cognitive-behavioral individually based programs. This study also provides a foundation from which to begin developing manualized treatment protocols for use in pilot studies.


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