Meaning-centered group psychotherapy (MCGP) is effective for reducing psychological distress and improving spiritual well-being in patients with advanced cancer, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

William Breitbart, M.D., from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, and colleagues examined the efficacy of MCGP to reduce psychological distress and improve spiritual well-being among 253 patients with advanced cancer.

Participants were randomized to manualized eight-session interventions of MCGP or supportive group psychotherapy (SGP). Patients were assessed for spiritual well-being and overall quality of life as well as secondary outcome measures before and after completing treatment and at two months after treatment.

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The researchers found that for participants who attended three or more sessions there was a significant group × time interaction for most outcome variables in models that included a priori covariates. 

Compared with patients receiving SGP, those receiving MCGP showed significantly greater improvement in spiritual well-being and quality of life, and significantly greater decreases in depression, hopelessness, desire for hastened death, and physical symptom distress.

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There were no between-group differences for changes in anxiety. Significant treatment effects were seen for quality of life, depression, and hopelessness in analyses that included all patients (intention-to-treat analyses) and no covariates.

“This large randomized controlled study provides strong support for the efficacy of MCGP as a treatment for psychological and existential or spiritual distress in patients with advanced cancer,” the authors write.


  1. Breitbart, William. “Meaning-Centered Group Psychotherapy: An Effective Intervention for Improving Psychological Well-Being in Patients With Advanced Cancer.” Journal of Clinical Oncology. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2014.57.2198. February 2, 2015.