Current thinking has long been that group therapy contributes positively to the life extension of people with advanced cancer. In a landmark study (1989) by Stanford University psychiatrist David Spiegel, it was reported that group therapy doubled the lives of women with metastatic breast cancer. In contradiction to this finding a recent study, reported in the journal, “Cancer”, also authored by Spiegel, concluded that group therapy does not have any effect on survival.

However, Spiegel’s latest study did conclude that group therapy does improve the quality of life, as well as having beneficial effects on mood and pain in women with advanced breast cancer.

This study should not discourage your participating in support groups. Support groups, including those run by Malecare, allow members to come to grips with fears, anger, grief, depression and most importantly gain control of their medical treatment.

Spiegel explained the discrepancy between the two studies by alluding to the fact that cancer drugs today have improved so dramatically that they leave “less room for improvement” through group therapy.

Social attitudes around cancer have also changed dramatically in the last 30 years. This change now makes it possible for survivors to find emotional and social support outside of group therapy, according to Spiegel. He also said, “The effect of group therapy may be less powerful today than it was when cancer was a dirty word. People saw it as a death sentence and suffered in silence.”

Joel T Nowak MA, MSW