This study examined the relationship between coping and psychosocial adaptation in cancer patients over time and across distinct clinical events.
In a prospective longitudinal study 74 patients with breast cancer were observed for 3 to 5 years at 3- to 6-month intervals. A total of 684 interviews were conducted at different observation points. Three rating scales were used to assess coping and adjustment: first, the Bernese Coping Modes, an observer rating scale devised to elicit 26 coping modes aggregated in this paper as the five Basic Coping Strategies of support, self-control, denial, diverting, and negative-emotional; second, an observer rating scale to ascertain psychosocial adaptation; and third, a self-rating scale as a measure of either emotional distress or well-being.
a) When aggregated in illness stages, coping and distress data on the observed clinical time points showed greater variability than time measures alone (analysis of variance (ANOVA) for repeated measures p <.001). b) A significant relationship between the Basic Coping Strategies and psychosocial adaptation was demonstrated using discriminant and correlational analysis. Furthermore, in stage-dependent Pearson r correlations (p <.05 to .001), a clear-cut relationship was found for hospitalization, chemotherapy, and rehabilitation, but not for convalescence and metastasis. c) A positive relationship was demonstrated between psychosocial adaptation and strategies that can be generally categorized as good forms of coping such as support and self-control, and, to a lesser degree, diverting and denial. Conversely, poor coping exerted a negative effect on almost all illness stages and on most criteria of adjustment.
In long-term studies on psychosocial adaptation and coping, stage-related measures should be preferred to time measures alone. The implications of different strategies for the psychological treatment of cancer patients are discussed.