OBJECTIVES: Family members of patients in a vegetative state have relatively high rates of anxiety and distress. It is important to recognize the problems faced by this population and apply psychological interventions to help them. This exploratory study describes the psychological stress experienced by family members of patients in a vegetative state. We discuss the effectiveness of a psychological crisis intervention directed at this population and offer suggestions for future clinical work. METHODS: A total of 107 family members of patients in a vegetative state were included in the study. The intervention included four steps: acquisition of facts about each family, sharing their first thoughts concerning the event, assessment of their emotional reactions and developing their coping... abilities. The Symptom Check List-90 was used to evaluate the psychological distress of the participants at baseline and one month after the psychological intervention. Differences between the Symptom Check List-90 scores at the baseline and follow-up evaluations were analyzed. RESULTS: All participants in the study had significantly higher Symptom Check List-90 factor scores than the national norms at baseline. There were no significant differences between the intervention group and the control group at baseline. Most of the Symptom Check List-90 factor scores at the one-month follow-up evaluation were significantly lower than those at baseline for both groups; however, the intervention group improved significantly more than the control group on most subscales, including somatization, obsessive-compulsive behavior, depression, and anxiety. CONCLUSION: The results of this study indicate that the four-step intervention method effectively improves the mental health of the family members who received this treatment and lessens the psychological symptoms of somatization, obsessive-compulsive behavior, depression and anxiety.