Art work, meditation and group support may help cancer patients live more fulfilling life

July 30, 2002

Coping with cancer can lead to uncertainty about what kind of life a patient will have in the future. But sometimes it can help to have other things to focus on-to develop a better perspective about the road ahead.

A new group support therapy program for cancer patients employing a combination of art, meditation and other support mechanisms is being studied by researchers at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia.

The goal of the "Live Better with the Uncertainty of Cancer" study, also known as Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy (MBAT), is to see if psychological stress and the severity of medical symptoms can be reduced, and the overall quality of life for cancer patients enhanced, explains principal investigator Daniel Monti, M.D., section chief of Complementary and Alternative Medicine and assistant professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University.

"The therapy emphasizes creative expression and meditation as a means to not only reduce stress for these patients but to try to give them a positive outlook on a life that may not seem so rosy at the moment," said Dr. Monti, who is also director of the mind-body medicine program at the Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Participants need not have any previous art experience or training. "In fact, some of the participants who got the most benefit from the program felt they had little or no artistic skills or talents prior to entering," he said.

The study is supported by a $400,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Center for Compl

ementary and Alternative Medicine, and is being conducted cooperatively by Jefferson's Department of Psychiatry, the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson and Jefferson's Center for Integrative Medicine. There are 47 cancer patients currently enrolled in the study. Researchers plan to enroll 114 patients over the course of the study.

The study is a larger version of a pilot program Dr. Monti and his colleagues conducted in June 2000. Results of the study are being compiled, but the researchers felt the program was beneficial to patients and that a larger trial was warranted, Dr. Monti said.

"Previous studies have suggested that supportive and expressive groups for cancer patients can enhance their quality of life," he said. "The advantage of this intervention is that supportive and expressive aspects of the group are enhanced by the mindfulness-meditation techniques and the artistic expression."

Study participants can expect to create various art works through drawing and working with clay.

"This gives the participants a tangible medium to express their internal turmoil," Dr. Monti explained. "It is often very distressing to receive a diagnosis of cancer and the available treatments can be a very difficult process. The MBAT intervention provides an innovative forum in which to de-stress from these harrowing experiences."

Qualified candidates are both male and female adults who have been diagnosed with cancer or had a recurrence within two years. The participants are divided into two groups to better evaluate whether the MBAT therapy is effective, Dr. Monti said.

One group receives mindful-based stress reduction training and art therapy as soon as they enter the study. The second group receives MBAT therapy in eight weeks.

After about two months, both groups are evaluated and compared to see the differences. There will be separate sessions for men and women.

Patients interested in the study can call 215-955-8370 for more information.
Contact: Jeffrey Adam Baxt
or Phyllis Fisher
After Hours: 215/955-6060

Thomas Jefferson University

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