Nurses working in critical care units play an important role in helping patients and their families cope with illness. In this article, heart disease is used as a paradigm for discussion of the coping processes of patients and families as they adapt to an acute event. Patients and spouses demonstrate different but equally important responses that may increase marital conflict and impede recovery. The denial frequently used by patients is in direct contrast to the oversolicitousness demonstrated by spouses. Early assessment of potential family dysfunction is essential in order to plan and implement interventions that promote family coping. In this article, the interventions available to nurses working with families in an acute care setting are reviewed. Interview data from one study of cardiac patients and their spouses is used to illustrate the family dynamics seen in the acute and chronic phase of recovery and to provide examples of the couplesā€™ differing perspectives on the helpfulness of various interventions

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