Managing Cancer and Living Meaningfully (CALM): a qualitative study of a brief individual psychotherapy for individuals with advanced cancer

Palliat Med. 2012 Jul;26(5):713-21. doi: 10.1177/0269216311425096. Epub 2011 Oct 31.


Background: Although psychosocial care has been regarded as central to palliative and supportive care, there have been few empirically tested approaches to individual intervention.

Aim: The subjective experience of advanced cancer patients receiving a new manualized brief individual psychotherapy, referred to as Managing Cancer and Living Meaningfully (CALM), was examined prior to the initiation of a randomized controlled trial testing the effectiveness of this intervention.

Design: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with patients who had a diagnosis of advanced cancer, and who underwent the intervention.

Setting/participants: Patients were recruited from a large urban regional cancer center in Toronto, Canada. The 10 interviewees included seven women and three men. All had completed between three to six CALM sessions prior to the interview.

Results: The CALM intervention was associated with profound and unique patient-identified benefits and no patient-identified risks or concerns. Five interrelated benefits of the intervention were identified: (1) a safe place to process the experience of advanced cancer; (2) permission to talk about death and dying; (3) assistance in managing the illness and navigating the healthcare system; (4) resolution of relational strain; and (5) an opportunity to 'be seen as a whole person' within the healthcare system. These benefits were regarded by participants as unique in their cancer journey.

Conclusions: Findings from a qualitative study suggest that the CALM intervention provides substantial benefits for patients with advanced cancer prior to the end of life. Findings informed the development of a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effectiveness of this intervention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Attitude to Death
  • Canada
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Palliative Care* / methods
  • Psychotherapy, Brief / methods
  • Psychotherapy, Brief / standards*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Surveys and Questionnaires