Quality of Life for Older Cancer Patients: Relation of Psychospiritual Distress to Meaning-Making During Dignity Therapy

Susan Bluck, Emily L. Mroz*, Diana J. Wilkie, Linda Emanuel, George Handzo, George Fitchett, Harvey Max Chochinov, Carma L. Bylund

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: Nearly 500,000 older Americans die a cancer-related death annually. Best practices for seriously ill patients include palliative care that aids in promoting personal dignity. Dignity Therapy is an internationally recognized therapeutic intervention designed to enhance dignity for the seriously ill. Theoretically, Dignity Therapy provides opportunity for patients to make meaning by contextualizing their illness within their larger life story. The extent to which Dignity Therapy actually elicits meaning-making from patients, however, has not been tested. Aim: The current study examines (i) extent of patient meaning-making during Dignity Therapy, and (ii) whether baseline psychospiritual distress relates to subsequent meaning-making during Dignity Therapy. Design: Participants completed baseline self-report measures of psychospiritual distress (i.e., dignity-related distress, spiritual distress, quality of life), before participating in Dignity Therapy. Narrative analysis identified the extent of meaning-making during Dignity Therapy sessions. Participants: Twenty-five outpatients (M age = 63, SD = 5.72) with late-stage cancer and moderate cancer-related symptoms were recruited. Results: Narrative analysis revealed all patients made meaning during Dignity Therapy but there was wide variation (i.e., 1—12 occurrences). Patients who made greater meaning were those who, at baseline, reported significantly higher psychospiritual distress, including greater dignity-related distress (r =.46), greater spiritual distress (r =.44), and lower quality of life (r = -.56). Conclusion: Meaning-making was found to be a central component of Dignity Therapy. Particularly, patients experiencing greater distress in facing their illness use the Dignity Therapy session to express how they have made meaning in their lives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)54-61
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • dignity
  • life story
  • narrative analysis
  • palliative care
  • spiritual distress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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