Heinrichs, N., Zimmermann, T., Huber, B., Herschbach, P., Russell, D.W., & Baucom, D.H. (2012). Cancer distress reduction with a couple-based skills training: A randomized controlled trial. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 43, 239–252.doi: 10.1007/s12160-011-9314-9
To investigate the short- and long-term effects of a psychosocial side-by-side couple's intervention on disease distress, post-traumatic growth, communication, and dyadic coping among women with breast and gynecologic cancers and their partners
The side-by-side intervention consisted of four meeting sessions between a participating couple and a therapist on a biweekly, face-to-face basis at the couple’s home. Each meeting session lasted two hours. Each of the four sessions focused on a certain theme and had specific objectives.
The Couples Control Program was the control group. Control group couples received only one two-hour session where they were given written educational materials about breast and gynecological cancers. The therapist used a structured protocol when interacting with participants.
Active antitumor treatment phase
A two-site, controlled, parallel-group study with random assignment (balanced randomization [1:1]) was used.
Sample description and differences:
The following changes were observed in the outcome variables:
Side-by-side intervention showed clear benefit compared to the control group in fear of disease progression and avoidant behavior. This benefit was short-term and did not carry through to long-term assessments. There was also clear benefit in dyadic coping and communication, but both were also short-term.
Side-by-side intervention has shown potential benefit in faster post-traumatic growth compared to control group.
The findings indirectly indicate that the interdisciplinary team caring for women with cancer should involve the services of psychologists, family therapists, or advanced practice nurses with specialized training in mental and relationship wellness for patients and their partners.
Nursing care should include an assessment of a couple's distress level and communication patterns over the trajectory of a breast or gynecologic cancer illness.
Attrition and recruitment in long-term studies involving caregivers remain serious threats, and future research designs and methodologies should include clear plans to manage these challenging aspects.