Group Therapy Not for All Cancer Patients

Article excerpt

As we know, treating the emotional aspects of cancer is an integral part of cancer care. Sometimes, group therapy can help these patients process their feelings about what is happening to them in a way that can prove beneficial. But group therapy can prove troubling for some cancer patients. This is where the consultation-liaison psychiatrist's role becomes critical.

We must try to determine whether a cancer patient wants to participate in group therapy. It is essential that physicians and patients talk about what the patient is looking for and whether the patient wants to explore several options.

In these discussions, it helps to explain to the patient that cancer support groups are different. In some, patients are referred--as are the speakers and participants. Other groups are education oriented and hospital run, and outside speakers and family members may be invited to attend meetings on a specific subject, such as hospice care.

In contrast, some cancer support groups are open to anyone who wishes to participate. In those kinds of groups, a patient with an early stage of cancer may become frightened or traumatized at a meeting of patients whose cancers are different or more severe. These situations can be particularly problematic when medical or mental health professionals are neither leading the group nor interpreting what is said.

The problem with patients choosing support groups on their own is that they may not have guidance or prior knowledge about what types of patients will be in the group, who is leading it, or what topics will be discussed.

Some patients simply do not feel comfortable in a group, and they would not be able to talk aloud about their feelings and concerns. Still others are distressed and unable to concentrate, and become anxious when they hear others' issues.

If cancer patients express interest in support groups or group therapy, talk to them about what they expect and what limitations they might have about a support group or group therapy. Cost, time, and location, for example, may be problematic.

Encourage cancer patients to try a support group or group therapy if they express interest, and make sure they realize that they can--and should--come back to the psychiatrist and talk about what was said at a group session and how they felt. …