J Cancer 2010; 1:112-119. doi:10.7150/jca.1.112

Short Research Communication

Practice and Effectiveness of Outpatient Psycho-Oncological Counseling for Cancer Patients

Ute Goerling1, Deniz Tagmat1, Elvira Muffler2, Nancy Schramm1, Klaus-Dieter Wernecke3, Peter M. Schlag1

1. Charité Comprehensive Cancer Center, Berlin, Germany
2. Berliner Krebsgesellschaft e.V., Berlin, Germany
3. SOSTANA, Berlin, Germany

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Goerling U, Tagmat D, Muffler E, Schramm N, Wernecke KD, Schlag PM. Practice and Effectiveness of Outpatient Psycho-Oncological Counseling for Cancer Patients. J Cancer 2010; 1:112-119. doi:10.7150/jca.1.112. Available from https://www.jcancer.org/v01p0112.htm

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Objective: Because of various types of psychological distress, cancer patients are encouraged to attend outpatient psycho-oncological and psychosocial counseling. The aim of this prospective study was an analysis of the impact and success of existing counseling resources.

Methods: All cancer patients who had applied at a central counseling center were given a standardized questionnaire (FBK-R23), designed to assess the type and degree of cancer patients' difficulties prior to their first counseling session. Additionally, the psychological condition of the patients was assessed psycho-oncologically by a third party (PO-Bado). After at least 2 and no more than 5 sessions, patients underwent both self-evaluation and third-party assessment, using the same instruments.

Results: During the period from September 2008 and August 2009, we looked at a total of 447 people seeking counseling, including 186 family members (42%), 33 professional caregivers (7%), and 228 patients (51%). Out of the 228 patients, 48 attended our counseling sessions personally and 20 of these additionally completed the second questionnaire. Counseling led to only a tendency toward improvement, on average, of total psychological distress (p=0.08). In individual areas - for example, “Social Distress” and “Everyday Limitations”- no change could be measured. Only the problem area identified as “Information Deficit” was improved, on average, after 3 counseling sessions (p=0.008).

Conclusion: Our results indicate that while short-term counseling has no concrete effect on the improvement of a patient's psychological well-being, these support sessions do serve to decrease the patient's so-called “Information Deficit”, thereby bringing about an indirect improvement in the sufferer's psychological state. The course of treatment offered should be determined according to the patient's needs. In order to ensure that even the very sickest of the tumor patient group seek outreach groups, we must target this particular group with additional evaluative questions. Further studies must determine whether short-term counseling or other counseling strategies are most effective.

Keywords: cancer, oncology, psycho-oncological counseling, distress, support