Although the importance of spiritual issues to people with cancer is by now widely acknowledged, there has been almost no research on the value of interventions specifically designed to enhance the spiritual experience of these patients. The present report describes an exploratory study on the effects of a brief psychoeducational course emphasizing spiritual aspects of coping and healing.
Ninety-seven patients with various types and stages of cancer took part in the 8-session course as the third stage in a progressive, stepwise program of support and psychological education. Standard psychometric tests were administered at entry, 8 weeks, and 6 months. Written home assignments, returned by participants, provided an insight into their experience.
Significant improvements in scores were found immediately following the intervention; by 6 months, however, these improvements above entry level had declined to about half the 8-week value. In their written homework, patients grappled with such issues as doubts about the existence of a god, judgment and forgiveness, guilt, projection, self-importance, and the meaning of love. As the course progressed, many claimed to be better able to accept their condition and to experience an enhanced sense of meaning in their lives, coupled with a heightened appreciation for the events of everyday life and less tendency to conflict with others.
These preliminary findings indicate that further, more rigorous investigation would be worthwhile and support the growing view that addressing spiritual issues within the framework of group therapy can be of great benefit to people with cancer.