Dr. Wendy Hawke Lenz, MD, Director of Support Services and Palliative Care at Georgia Cancer Specialists feels support groups are a critical adjunct to successful pain management. “Psychosocial issues have significant impact on the subjective aspects of pain. Often sharing coping strategies and dealing with difficult emotional issues help patients find relief of physical pain,” she says.
Besides aiding in symptom management, support groups have been found to improve survival in cancer patients. Emotional support is provided in various ways at GCS—staff who understand and educate, private family and individual counseling support groups.
Traditional support groups are facilitated by a professional group leader. Members provide each other with emotional and behavioral awareness of various issues facing cancer patients. These groups not only provide reassurance but also opportunities for psychological intervention.
Direct psychological counseling can assist in determining underlying psychosocial problems or teach a patient coping strategies for dealing with illness. Self-help groups are offered by several agencies including the American Cancer Society, the Red Cross, and the Leukemia Society. Many hospitals and churches sponsor support groups as well. These groups provide a safe environment for sharing in the collective spirit of a common experience. Often the group facilitator is a person who has had the diagnosis and is trained to help lead a group. GCS has been recognized by ABC's Innovator Health Award in 2001 for incorporating emotional counseling for patients, families, and staff.
For a list of GCS affiliated support groups, click here.
The Goals of Cancer Support Groups:
- Decrease patients’ sense of alienation by allowing them to talk to others in a similar situation.
- Reduce anxiety about treatment.
- Assist in clarifying misperceptions and misinformation.
- Lessen feelings of isolation, helplessness, and neglect.
Types of Support Groups
- Important in early stages of diagnosis and treatment.
- Decreases anxiety, depression, hostility.
- Provides information about the disease.
- Provides information about health-enhancing behaviors (e.g., diet, exercise).
- Dispels myths and misconceptions about treatments.
Behavioral/Coping Skills Training
- Important early in diagnosis for receptive patients. Decreases emotional distress, nausea, pain, and anxiety.
- Can be useful for failed treatment, especially in high anxiety, hostile patients, or those with poor family dynamics.
- Provides information and techniques on stress management.
- Provides information and training on relaxation techniques such as guided imagery and biofeedback.
- Provides information on hypnosis.
- Provides techniques to enhance coping skills with goals of increasing optimism, flexibility, resourcefulness, and practicality.
- Important at any stage of illness.
- Provides support from a professional group leader and group members.
- Associated with better adjustment to illness.
- Provides awareness of cognitive, emotional, social, and behavioral issues in patients with cancer.
- Provides format for patient to be heard.
- Provides opportunity for psychological intervention.
- Provides reassurance.
- Reinforces coping mechanisms.
- Serve as a safe environment for exploring lifestyle changes caused by cancer.
- Led by nonprofessional, patient and family members who meet to exchange common experiences.
- Provides mutual help and support.
- Offers sharing in the collective spirit of common experiences.
- Offers information exchange in a nonthreatening environment.
- Develops coping mechanism for shared goals.