Emotional Healing: Support Groups and Counseling -- Ann Webster, PhD.

By Ann Webster
WebMD Live Events Transcript

Getting proper emotional support and sharing your treatment journey with others is as vital to survival as any medical intervention. Studies show that support groups and counseling add years to the lives of women with breast cancer. Psychologist Ann Webster, PhD, director of the mind-body cancer program at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, joined us to talk about support issues.

The opinions expressed herein are the guest's alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD University. Our guest today is Ann Webster, PhD, director of the mind-body cancer program at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Let's start by asking you to explain mind-body medicine.

Webster: Mind-body medicine looks at the interactions between what goes on in the mind and what goes on in the body. The techniques that we offer to patients are self-care techniques such as the relaxation response, nutrition, exercise, social support, cognitive therapy, and spirituality -- anything that the patient can do for her- or himself. This is not considered an alternative to traditional medicine; we think of it as a complement or an adjunct to regular medicine.

Moderator: How do you determine what will work for a particular woman?

Webster: The program I offer is in a group format; approximately 15 people with breast cancer in a group at a time for 10 weeks. Every week I am teaching another component of mind-body medicine. So each woman learns an abundance of self-care techniques and she can decide which ones really work for her. Hopefully, all of them work. So I don't actually make a decision as to which one will work. I offer many choices.

Moderator: I have not heard of this type of work being done in this way before. How did your program develop?

Webster: This program has been in existence at Harvard for 30 years. It was developed by Dr. Herbert Benson, a very well-known cardiologist at Harvard. I have been the director of the Mind-body Cancer Program for 17 years. I also do the same type of interventions for individual cancer patients, not just in a group. There has also been a fair amount of research looking at the health benefits of mind-body groups for cancer patients.

Moderator: Does the group aspect enhance the results of the individual types of intervention? Is there a synergy?

Webster: Yes. The group experience is extremely powerful. Women with breast cancer are together and discover they are not alone in this experience. They have many common threads. The group is the only place where everyone understands each other. This is extremely comforting.

Member: Tell us something concrete about your program.

Webster: One of the techniques that we offer in mind-body medicine is a relaxation technique. It's approximately 15 minutes long. People learn to quiet their bodies and minds. Everyone who has cancer is extremely anxious and worried, so this is the first step toward dealing with that emotional upset. Everyone receives a copy of my audiotape and they are asked to listen to it once a day. It teaches breathing techniques, muscle relaxation, and focusing the mind.

We also teach "minis," which are little relaxation techniques that simply focus upon breathing and counting or breathing and a word, such as "peace," or breathing and repeating a phrase or prayer on the out breath such as "God be with me." So the first thing we offer is a way to calm the mind and the body.

Moderator: How can someone get a copy of your relaxation tape?

Webster: They can write to me at:

Anne Webster, PhD
Mind-Body Medical Institute
824 Boylston Street
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467

The tape is $10 with a dollar for shipping and handling, total of $11.

Member: Should checks for the tape be made out to the doctor or the institute?

Webster: It should be made out to me, Anne Webster, PhD. I also have a CD called Healing Imagery that is specifically for people with cancer.

The CD is $18, which includes shipping and handling.

Member: Does your clinic support patients who only opt for the complementary [treatment], or must they be using it in conjunction with conventional medicine?

Webster: Our clinic supports anyone who is going through cancer, no matter what kind, no matter what treatment. Everyone is welcome.

Member: Can group therapy work if there isn't support at home?