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To date, nearly 10,000 World Trade Center (WTC) responders have been diagnosed with at least one type of WTC-related cancer, and over 70 types of cancer have been related to WTC occupational exposure. Due to the observed latency period for malignancies, the WTC Health Program anticipates increases in rates of new cancer diagnoses. Given the growing number of cancer diagnoses in this population, there is an urgent need to develop a novel intervention to address the psychosocial needs of WTC responders with cancer. Meaning-centered psychotherapy (MCP) is a structured psychotherapeutic intervention originally developed to help patients with advanced cancer find and sustain meaning in life despite illness-related limitations. Existential distress and loss of meaning are critical and understudied elements of psychological health that have been widely overlooked among WTC responders with cancer.
We have adapted MCP for WTC responders (MCP-WTC) for the treatment of WTC responders who have been diagnosed with WTC-certified cancers. MCP-WTC aims to target the complex crisis in meaning faced by those responders who responded to the 9/11 attacks and subsequently were diagnosed with cancer as a result of their service.
We describe the adaptation of MCP-WTC and the application of this intervention to meet the unique needs of those exposed to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), participated in the rescue, recovery, and clean-up effort at Ground Zero, and were diagnosed with WTC-related cancer. We highlight the novel aspects of this intervention which have been designed to facilitate meaning-making in the context of the patient's response to 9/11 and subsequent diagnosis of cancer.
Significance of results
This work provides a rationale for MCP-WTC and the potential for this intervention to improve the quality of life of WTC responders and help these patients navigate life after 9/11 and cancer.
To determine the preliminary feasibility, acceptability, and effects of Meaning-Centered Grief Therapy (MCGT) for parents who lost a child to cancer.
Parents who lost a child to cancer and who were between six months and six years after loss and reporting elevated levels of prolonged grief were enrolled in open trials of MCGT, a manualized, one-on-one cognitive-behavioral-existential intervention that used psychoeducation, experiential exercises, and structured discussion to explore themes related to meaning, identity, purpose, and legacy. Parents completed 16 weekly sessions, 60–90 minutes in length, either in person or through videoconferencing. Parents were administered measures of prolonged grief disorder symptoms, meaning in life, and other assessments of psychological adjustment preintervention, mid-intervention, postintervention, and at three months postintervention. Descriptive data from both the in-person and videoconferencing open trial were pooled.
Eight of 11 (72%) enrolled parents started the MCGT intervention, and six of eight (75%) participants completed all 16 sessions. Participants provided positive feedback about MCGT. Results showed postintervention longitudinal improvements in prolonged grief (d = 1.70), sense of meaning (d = 2.11), depression (d = 0.84), hopelessness (d = 1.01), continuing bonds with their child (d = 1.26), posttraumatic growth (ds = 0.29–1.33), positive affect (d = 0.99), and various health-related quality of life domains (d = 0.46–0.71). Most treatment gains were either maintained or increased at the three-month follow-up assessment.
Significance of results
Overall, preliminary data suggest that this 16-session, manualized cognitive-behavioral-existential intervention is feasible, acceptable, and associated with transdiagnostic improvements in psychological functioning among parents who have lost a child to cancer. Future research should examine MCGT with a larger sample in a randomized controlled trial.
Following the loss of a loved one to cancer, a significant subset of bereaved family members are at heightened risk for mental and physical health problems; however, these family members often “fall through the cracks” of the healthcare system. A brief, clinically useful self-report bereavement risk-screening tool could facilitate more effective identification of family members in need of psychosocial support before and after a cancer loss. Thus, the purpose of this study was to develop and refine the Bereavement Risk Inventory and Screening Questionnaire (BRISQ), a self-report bereavement screening tool, and to assess its utility using feedback from bereavement experts.
Quantitative and qualitative feedback from a panel of 15 clinical and research experts in bereavement was obtained through an online survey to identify the most clinically useful items and understand expert opinion on bereavement screening.
The qualitative and quantitative feedback were synthesized, resulting in a 22% reduction of the item pool. While there was a general consensus between experts on the most clinically useful risk factors for bereavement-related mental health challenges and on the utility of screening, they also offered feedback on language and formatting that guided substantial revisions to the BRISQ.
Significance of results:
These findings were utilized to refine the BRISQ in preparation for a second study to obtain family member feedback on the measure. By incorporating both expert and family member feedback, the intention is to create a screening tool that represents top clinical and research knowledge in bereavement in a way that effectively addresses barriers to care.
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