Psychological Stress, Ego Defenses, and Cortisol Production in Children Hospitalized for Elective Surgery

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This study was designed to investigate the relationship between the effectiveness of coping mechanisms and physiological indicators of distress in children faced with the experience of hospitalization and surgery. Twenty-five children between the ages of 7 and 11 were studied in the out-patient department, 2 weeks before surgery, and again during their hospital stay. Effectiveness of defenses and defense style was measured by a clinical interview and by the Rorschach test. Cortisol production rates were measured by the analysis of 24-hour urine collections at home and again in the hospital. Ward adjustment was also rated by a ward questionnaire. The results indicated no relationship between defense effectiveness and cortisol production rates in the out-patient department and an inverse relationship between cortisol production and defense effectiveness under the stress of hospitalization. Defense style was found to correlate with coping under stress. Four different groups of children emerged, suggesting four different types of reaction to the hospital experience.

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