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U-M CCC - Progress Newsletter Fall 2003 Online

Psych-Oncology Offers Ongoing Care, Ever-increasing Options

Those receiving care at the U-M Cancer Center now have even more options to augment their treatment with specialized emotional care. These therapeutic alternatives are open to patients, and in some instances their partners. After an initial screening and evaluation, patients participate in therapy groups led by a Cancer Center staff member with expertise in group psychotherapy.

Only a select few cancer centers currently offer the range of psych-oncology services available at U-M, making the Center's program something of a model nationwide. According to Michelle Riba, M.D., Director of the Psych-Oncology Program, "We are very excited and proud of the goals we are trying to achieve -- evaluating patients and family members and then providing appropriate treatment -- whether individual, family or group psychotherapy and/or medication management. In addition to direct patient care, we carry out educational initiatives to better inform faculty and staff about the psychiatric issues that are relevant to cancer patients. Also, we're involved with research in psych-oncology to further develop the field. I believe we are one of the leaders in providing a wide spectrum of psych-oncology services to patients and their families."

Since some form of psychotherapy is often suggested as a component of treatment and/or aftercare, the Cancer Center offers a range of services to meet patients' varying needs, from support groups to group therapy to individualized therapy. The terms "support group" and "group therapy" are often interchanged, but the distinction is significant.

Support groups usually meet monthly and may be open to the public. Since members may come and go at will, attendance varies from month to month. Support groups may be led by either a peer or a professional (although all groups at the Cancer Center are led by a trained staff member.) Finally, there is no charge for participating in a support group. Currently, the Cancer Center hosts over a dozen different support groups, providing opportunities to share experiences, build relationships and learn important life skills.

By contrast, participating in group therapy is a somewhat more intense experience, requiring more frequent meetings, usually weekly, with group members making a commitment to consistent attendance and participation. This allows the group to address topics related to cancer and its treatment while building on issues from one meeting to the next. Members are screened by a professional prior to joining, and groups work together on issues with trained professionals as well. Over the course of a group therapy program, improved mood, decreased anxiety and isolation, enhanced coping and networking skills are the goals. There is usually a fee associated with therapy groups, all or part of which may be covered by health insurance.

During the course of diagnosis, treatment and recovery, a cancer patient might explore various therapy options, depending upon his or her situation. That has been the case for Jane Karasin during her struggle with breast cancer. Karasin was first diagnosed in 1990. As a young mother facing this devastating challenge, Karasin explored different counseling alternatives to help her cope with cancer, and eventually sought individualized therapy. "I was fortunate to then go into remission for 10 years, but faced a recurrence of my cancer in 2001. With the reality of metastatic cancer, my situation changed again. I considered returning to one-on-one therapy, but something was missing."

Karasin then heard about the Cancer Center's group therapy for women with advanced cancer. "It's hard to explain how very helpful it's been for me to sit down with others who share the same fears and hear their perspectives. I've been comforted and I've been able to comfort others Ð it's a way to give back under difficult circumstances. I would definitely encourage others facing cancer to consider a group." When asked to clarify the role played by the social workers who facilitate the group, Karasin explains, "They leave the discussion to us. But when we reach a point where we need help to console someone, or we can't seem to move forward, they're very good at opening new avenues for us to pursue together."

The growth of the U-M Cancer Center's Psych-Oncology program reflects the demand for more options for patients like Karasin. Currently, two separate psychotherapy groups for women with advanced cancer are ongoing. In addition, recruitment is underway for the following new groups:

  • Men with advanced cancer
  • Partners of patients with advanced cancer
  • Post-treatment women with primary breast cancer

For information about these group psychotherapy services, related fees and health insurance coverage, call 734-764-3115 or log on to their web page.

A complete listing of support groups, group therapy sessions, meeting times and locations is available at the Patient Education and Resource Center (PERC) located on level B1 of the Cancer Center, or by calling (734) 647-8626 or visiting the web.


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Please Note:

This article is part of the Cancer Center's News Archive, and is listed here for historical purposes.

The information and links may no longer be up-to-date.

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