Support Groups Lessen Depression, Pain

Cancer Support Group Can Lessen Depression, Pain [12/13/2001; Reuters Health]

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -

Joining a support group may not prolong the lives of women with breast cancer but it can help relieve their depression and anxiety, according to the results of a study. The findings contradict the results of a previous report, which found that a type of therapy known as supportive-expressive group therapy added more than a year to the lives of women whose breast cancer had spread to other parts of the body, or metastasized.

In this type of therapy, which is offered to people who are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, participants are encouraged to talk about their disease and its effects on all aspects of their lives. The current report did not find that therapy sessions were associated with a survival benefit for women with breast cancer.

``Supportive-expressive group therapy does not prolong survival in women with metastatic breast cancer,'' conclude Dr. Pamela J. Goodwin from the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada, and colleagues. ``It improves mood and the perception of pain, particularly in women who are initially more distressed.''

The study included 158 women with metastatic breast cancer who participated in weekly group therapy sessions lasting 90 minutes each. These sessions included no more than 12 women and encouraged members to express their feelings about cancer and its physical, emotional, social and spiritual effects on their lives. Each session ended with self-hypnosis or relaxation.

Seventy-seven women in another group did not receive psychological therapy as part of the study but were invited to take part in support groups for people with cancer. All women answered written questions about their mood, level of pain and other factors after 4, 8 and 12 months. According to the results, published in the December 13th issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, women in both groups survived an average of 18 months.

Women who took part in group therapy sessions reported less pain and greater improvement in psychological symptoms such as anger, depression and distress.

In fact, women who were the most distressed before therapy began benefited the most from the sessions.

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