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Abbreviated dignity therapy for adults with advanced-stage cancer and their family caregivers: Qualitative analysis of a pilot study

  • Adrienne Beck (a1), Ann H. Cottingham (a2) (a3), Patrick V. Stutz (a3), Rachel Gruber (a3), Jennifer K. Bernat (a4), Paul R. Helft (a2) (a5) (a6) (a7), Laura Wilhelm (a8), Karen Schmidt (a2), Madison E. Stout (a3), Claire Willard (a2) (a5) (a9) and Shelley A. Johns (a2) (a3) (a5) (a6)...



Dignity therapy (DT) is designed to address psychological and existential challenges that terminally ill individuals face. DT guides patients in developing a written legacy project in which they record and share important memories and messages with those they will leave behind. DT has been demonstrated to ease existential concerns for adults with advanced-stage cancer; however, lack of institutional resources limits wide implementation of DT in clinical practice. This study explores qualitative outcomes of an abbreviated, less resource-intensive version of DT among participants with advanced-stage cancer and their legacy project recipients.


Qualitative methods were used to analyze postintervention interviews with 11 participants and their legacy recipients as well as the created legacy projects. Direct content analysis was used to assess feedback from the interviews about benefits, barriers, and recommendations regarding abbreviated DT. The legacy projects were coded for expression of core values.


Findings suggest that abbreviated DT effectively promotes (1) self-expression, (2) connection with loved ones, (3) sense of purpose, and (4) continuity of self. Participants observed that leading the development of their legacy projects promoted independent reflection, autonomy, and opportunities for family interaction when reviewing and discussing the projects. Consistent with traditional DT, participants expressed “family” as the most common core value in their legacy projects. Expression of “autonomy” was also a notable finding.

Significance of results

Abbreviated DT reduces resource barriers to conducting traditional DT while promoting similar benefits for participants and recipients, making it a promising adaptation warranting further research. The importance that patients place on family and autonomy should be honored as much as possible by those caring for adults with advanced-stage cancer.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Shelley A. Johns, Regenstrief Institute, Inc., 1101 West 10th Street, Indianapolis, IN 46202-4800. E-mail:


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Abbreviated dignity therapy for adults with advanced-stage cancer and their family caregivers: Qualitative analysis of a pilot study

  • Adrienne Beck (a1), Ann H. Cottingham (a2) (a3), Patrick V. Stutz (a3), Rachel Gruber (a3), Jennifer K. Bernat (a4), Paul R. Helft (a2) (a5) (a6) (a7), Laura Wilhelm (a8), Karen Schmidt (a2), Madison E. Stout (a3), Claire Willard (a2) (a5) (a9) and Shelley A. Johns (a2) (a3) (a5) (a6)...


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