The psychosocial themes of children with a congenital heart defect

Published in: Journal of Child & Adolescent Mental Health
Volume 29, issue 3, 2017 , pages: 231–244
DOI: 10.2989/17280583.2017.1405815
Author(s): Ronél van der WattDepartment of Psychology, South Africa, Carina PheifferDepartment of Psychology, South Africa, Stephen BrownPediatric and Child Health, South Africa


Children living with a congenital heart defect (CHD) carry the burden of a condition affecting their biological, psychological, and social functioning. Even though the physical heartbeats of these children might be inaudible and defective, their intra- and inter-personal ‘stories in sound’ need to be heard and understood. The aim of this research study was to explore these ‘stories in sound’ in children diagnosed with CHD. A qualitative, exploratory, descriptive study using thematic analysis was conducted. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with six boys and three girls between the ages of eight and fourteen years, who were diagnosed with CHD. The developmental psychopathology model (DPM) served as a conceptual framework. Five main themes emerged and were related to (i) the participants’ understanding of their cardiac diagnoses; (ii) the participants’ perceptions regarding their post-operative cardiac statuses; (iii) the participants’ psychological experiences related to their cardiac statuses; (iv) the effects of living with CHD on their social functioning; and (v) a unique relationship to their chronic cardiac condition. Within each of these themes, thirteen subthemes were identified. The article concludes that an age-appropriate understanding of CHD and post-operative cardiac status is important, as children’s perceptions have implications for their psychosocial experiences and acceptance of living with CHD. These children need comprehensive support from health care professionals.

Get new issue alerts for Journal of Child & Adolescent Mental Health