Families and Chronic Illness

Module Sections:

Rolland's Phases of Illness

In keeping with the systemic view, Rolland posits that when there is a change in one family member, this affects the entire family unit, which then affects the first family member (circular chain of influence). The Family Systems-Illness Model is designed to help families understand the illness life cycle (see figure 2 below) and the corresponding psychosocial demands that accompany each stage of that cycle.

Figure 2. Time Line and Phases of IllnessFigure 2. Time Line and Phases of Illness

The first step: Rolland’s (2005) model helps the family facing a chronic illness to “normalize and contextualize their experience” (p. 287). This requires the family to become educated on the illness and become familiar with the timeline of how the illness will progress (Rolland, 1994).

The second step of the Family Systems-Illness Model is for families to understand how they function as a system (Rolland, 1994). The family as a whole is called a “system” and each family member is a part of that system. If one part of the system changes, other parts (i.e., family members) often change to make up for the first change (i.e., family member). Each part of the system is connected to other parts, and therefore the entire structure of the system.

The third step is for the family to understand the family life cycle. The family will learn how to adapt to the changes that will be occurring within the family as a result of the chronic illness.

The last step of the model is for the family to become aware of the ways that their values, beliefs, and culture/ethnicity affect their perception of the chronic illness (Rolland, 1994).

Rolland's (1994 & 2005) Family Systems-Illness Model allows you to work collaboratively with the family to develop a “roadmap” for the course of the chronic illness. As a clinician, you can help the family recognize how their strengths, vulnerabilities, and family life cycle can be affected by the psychosocial demands of a chronic illness (Rolland, 2005).

Let’s now discuss the specific components of Rolland’s Family Systems-Illness Model (as briefly touched upon above) in more detail.