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Meaning and Purpose (MaP) therapy I: Therapeutic processes and themes in advanced cancer

  • Carrie Lethborg (a1) (a2), David W. Kissane (a2) (a3) and Penelope Schofield (a4)



Understanding the way therapy works is a complex undertaking. Historically, such enquiry has been dominated by “outcomes” leading to a lack of discourse about clinical processes. In the cancer setting, identifying clinical process can be even more complex because of the added challenges of an ongoing illness. This study investigated the therapeutic processes used in a meaning-based intervention developed for the advanced cancer setting: Meaning and Purpose therapy.


Four sessions of therapy were delivered to 24 participants. Transcribed sessions (n = 96) of the intervention were analyzed by two independent researchers to describe participant themes, therapeutic processes, and patterns of change related to common points in the intervention.


Although both suffering and meaning were present in all sessions, when we tracked the focus of the content across sessions, there was a clear progressive shift toward meaning-centered content for all participants. This finding is in spite of the fact that all participants had progressive disease and were living with ongoing challenges.

Significance of results

Processes such as focusing on meaning, reflecting a sense of significance, joining with participants to explore their unique meaning, and directing them away from a preoccupation with suffering were identified as clear influences of a shift toward a meaning-based focus. These processes offer a fresh focus on meaning and a buffer to the distress of advanced cancer.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Carrie Lethborg, B.S.W., M.S.W., PH.D., Social Work Department, St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria Parade, Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia3065. E-mail:


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Meaning and Purpose (MaP) therapy I: Therapeutic processes and themes in advanced cancer

  • Carrie Lethborg (a1) (a2), David W. Kissane (a2) (a3) and Penelope Schofield (a4)


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