Birnie, K., Garland, S.N., & Carlson, L.E. (2010). Psychological benefits for cancer patients and their partners participating in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). Psycho-Oncology, 19, 1004–1009.doi: 10.1002/pon.1651
To conduct a preliminary exploration of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) participation of couples affected by cancer, particularly as participation affects symptoms of stress, mood disturbance, and mindfulness for patients with cancer and their partners
A convenience sample of 41 couples already enrolled in an MBSR program at a cancer outpatient center agreed to participate by completing the three study measures before the program started and two weeks following program completion. Weekly 90-minute classes held over an eight-week period, plus one weekend retreat lasting three to six hours, comprised the intervention. Of the 41 couples, only 21 completed post-test measures and at least six of eight MBSR classes.
A pretest/post-test design was used.
Of the couples, 21 provided POMS data, 19 provided C-SOSI data, and 16 provided MAAS data for baseline and postintervention measures. Before MBSR intervention, patients reported significantly higher scores on the POMS fatigue subscale (p = 0.05), while partners reported significantly higher scores on the C-SOSI sympathetic arousal subscale (p < 0.05) than did patients according to t-test analysis. Patients with only baseline data reported significantly higher levels of total mood disturbance before MBSR classes than those who provided complete data (p < 0.05). After program completion, both patients and partners experienced significant reduction in mood disturbance (p < 0.05) and the C-SOSI subscales of muscle tension (p < 0.01), fatigue (p < 0.05), neurologic/GI (p < 0.05), and upper respiratory symptoms (p < 0.01). Both groups significantly increased their mindfulness (p < 0.05) as a result of the intervention. After the MBSR intervention, couples’ scores on the POMS and C-SOSI were more highly correlated with one another. Partners’ mood disturbance scores were positively correlated (p < 0.05) with patients’ symptoms of stress and negatively correlated with patients’ levels of mindfulness (p < 0.05).
As one of the first studies using a sample of patients with cancer and partners, the MBSR program benefited both patients and their partners by reducing mood disturbance and physical symptoms of stress, psychologically aligning patients and partners during the cancer journey, and increasing levels of mindfulness. Moderate effect sizes were found for both patients and partners on these variables.
MBSR programs for patients with cancer and their partners may buffer physical and psychological challenges during their cancer journey. Nurses, as members of the healthcare team, may suggest these increasingly evidence-based programs as a complementary intervention for patients and partners who seek additional nonmedical ways to cope with the cancer illness. Validation of MBSR will enhance couples’ willingness to seek out MBSR that may respond to psychosocial gaps in care of patients with cancer and their partners who struggle with predominant high-technology approaches to oncology care. Further examination is also needed to identify cost-effective ways of meeting healthcare system goals for person-centered care in diverse populations of families facing cancer.