Pairing Group Therapy and Shared Medical Appointments in Psychiatric Care

The combination of group therapy and shared medical appointments (SMA) appeared to be effective across subgroups of patients with cancer who required psychiatric care, according to a qualitative study presented at the American Psychiatric Association 2023 Annual Meeting. The presenter, Anna Kostrzewsky, MD, suggested the combined model is a valuable treatment option for the psychosocial burdens faced by this patient population.

The study enrolled a closed group of nine volunteers from a community cancer center in the Midwest. Group therapy and SMA sessions were one hour long and started with a personal statement and disease update from each patient. The last third of the sessions included psychotropic medication management. Patients self-designated with subgroups and shared issues offered by the researchers, such as long-term survivors with poor-prognostic cancers, young women, and fatigue management.

Over two years of data gathering, Dr. Kostrzewsky and colleagues identified several themes that were distinct to specific groups. For example, long-term survivors exhibited unique features of anxiety, including hypervigilance and fear of recurrence. Researchers noted that members of this subgroup also commonly featured dark humor and “full-force living” philosophies.

In the young women group, common themes were related to physical appearance, sexuality, and intimacy, and topics discussed included mood, anxiety, cognition, and living with a “new normal.”

Comparatively, the fatigue management group trended toward functional limitations, family dynamics, and role strain.

Overall, the researchers suggested combined group therapy and SMA is an effective method of care in psycho-oncology patients and that “common themes emerge when patients are divided into like subgroups, allowing the shared visit to be tailored to that group’s unique needs.”