While CancerCare has not conducted any formal studies on the impacts of participation, the aim and our hope in offering this group is to encourage through the writing process, a new understanding or reframing of these significant aspects of someone’s cancer experience. Even more crucially, CancerCare believes the process of sharing one’s writing with others ― within the safety of this professionally facilitated group ― can offer participants a much-needed sense of community, combating the sense of isolation that so many patients with cancer experience.
Over the years, CancerCare has received some wonderful feedback on the program. Upon completion, one participant wrote: “This experience was very helpful in that it made me realize there are people out there having the same fears and thoughts that I do. People from all walks of life coming together to embrace something as painful (mentally and physically) as cancer is truly inspirational.” Another shared: “This group made me think more deeply about many of the aspects of my discovery, treatment, and recovery. [The writing prompts] helped me find a richer understanding of what has passed and how I dealt or did not deal with the many aspects of handling cancer.”
This kind of feedback has encouraged us to continue offering this program. However, what are the potential limitations of this kind of group and what should you consider before launching similar programming in your own setting?
For participants to feel comfortable sharing at times highly personal histories and reflections, we as facilitators must create a sense of safety in the group space. One way we do this is through requiring all registered members to post regularly, essentially declaring their presence to one another. No members are allowed to “lurk” or only read others’ writings. While we have found this approach helpful in engaging many of the participants, this requirement is not always feasible for everyone. Some group members may be managing significant disease or treatment side effects or navigating other major life stressors that make consistent participation difficult. In such cases, we contact those individuals privately to offer them the option of joining a future group session or refer them to other supportive services.
So how can you incorporate therapeutic writing into your group work with patients with cancer? There are many excellent resources that can help you get started. A simple internet search of “journaling prompts” calls up a number of free websites listing questions designed to spark reflection. These can be further tailored to work for your specific patient population, and integrated into an existing support group or perhaps used to help structure a new group dedicated to therapeutic writing.
If you would like to refer any of your patients to CancerCare‘s Healing with Words therapeutic writing group, please encourage them to visit our website to learn more and register:
Caroline Edlund is the Online Support Group Program Director at CancerCare.
1. Lepore SJ, Smyth JM. 2002. The Writing Cure: How Expressive Writing Promotes Health and Expressive Writing and Emotional Well-being. American Psychological Association: Washington, DC.
2. Smith S, Anderson-Hanley C, Langrock A, Compas B. The Effects of Journaling for Women with Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer. Psycho-Oncology. 2005;14:1075-1082.
3. Bolton G. “Writing is a way of saying the things I can’t say” – Therapeutic Creative Writing: A Qualitative Study of its Value to People with Cancer Cared for in Cancer and Palliative Healthcare. Medical Humanities. 2008;34:40-46.