Psychological interventions for patients with cancer: psychological flexibility and the potential utility of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

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Abstract

Cancer is an illness affecting patients' physical and psychosocial well-being: high numbers report problematic levels of distress at many points through diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. Conclusive evidence for the long-term benefits of psychological interventions is lacking and this may be because (1) they employ a too limited scope of underlying therapeutic model; or (2) that they are too focused on improving psychopathological outcomes. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) may add components not emphasised elsewhere and may provide a more suitable model of adjustment and coping. Following a comprehensive literature search a theoretical and conceptual discussion of the potential for ACT-based oncology interventions is presented. Only a small number of studies have purposively studied the application of ACT within the cancer setting, but this nonetheless presents useful pilot data. The data demonstrate potential clinical- and cost-effectiveness for a range of patients, including those with psychological comorbidity. Within the context of wider cancer adjustment, ACT offers an intervention framework to appropriately build upon the strong empirical base already established for Mindfulness within this specific patient population. The evidence available suggests that the underlying framework of ACT offers an intervention model that is potentially more suited to the individualistic nature of cancer adjustment.

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