BACKGROUND: This study aims to explore differences in personal narratives of the experience of illness and treatment in depressed oncologic patients who received either combined treatment for depression (psychotherapy plus antidepressants) or standard treatment (antidepressants alone). METHODS: We employed a qualitative research design based on grounded theory. Data were collected from eight videotaped focus groups and semi-structured interviews with a total of 28 participants. The research team reviewed interview transcripts and categorized the participants' responses using the ATLAS.ti (ATLAS.ti Scientific Software Development GmbH Hardenbergstr. 7 D-10623, Berlin) software package. RESULTS: Compared with patients in the standard treatment group, patients in the combined treatment group were better able to relate their experiences of physical and emotional discomfort and find meaning in the experience of illness by viewing cancer as a transformative experience. In addition, patients in the combined treatment group tended to use more active coping strategies based on acceptance of their situation and emphasized that psychotherapy had been helpful. CONCLUSIONS: Qualitative analysis is an efficient method of examining the meaning of quantitative results in depth, particularly patients' perspectives on quality of life. Patients undergoing combined treatment consider psychotherapy to be a helpful tool and exhibit more personal growth than do patients undergoing standard treatment.
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