Oct. 11, 2001 Therapeutic relaxation offers modest relief of psychological distress for cancer patients, but the benefit of the behavioral approach may be greater if applied selectively to patients who screen for high levels of distress, according to a new study.
The benefit of the behavioral intervention, which involved body relaxation with guided imagery, was small but lasting, persisting for at least six months after the intervention. The study is published in the October issue of General Hospital Psychiatry.
Based on previous research, the American Cancer Society recommends group interventions such as this one as an important part of comprehensive psychosocial services for cancer patients.
“The results of a number of studies leave little doubt that psychological interventions are effective, at least in the short term, in decreasing psychological distress in cancer patients. We do not yet know, however, which treatment is best at each diagnostic stage of the illness,” says lead author Lea Baider, Ph.D., head of the Psycho-Oncology Unit at the Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem.
This study included 90 patients, all of whom had recently been diagnosed with cancer and were expected to live at least another three years. They were assessed on multiple psychological scales at the time of randomization to the intervention or control groups, which was within one month of their diagnosis. They were assessed again three months later, just before entering the intervention, and then again six months after the end of the intervention.
The intervention involved six sessions of body relaxation using guided imagery designed to decrease distress while increasing the patient’s sense of internal control. This helps patients better use their coping resources and improves overall quality of life. The sessions included 8 to 10 people in each group.
On average, the cancer patients participating in the relaxation groups showed small but significant decreases in their psychological distress. The more distressed patients were before entering the intervention, the more they were improved at the six-month follow up, the researchers found.
“In our study, patients who refused the intervention were found to be somewhat less distressed than those who agreed to participate,” says Baider, who suggests new patients may be screened before being offered distress-reducing therapies, since these interventions may be relatively unproductive for patients with little distress, while highly beneficial for patients with psychological distress.
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