Course: Meaning-Centered Psychotherapy for Cancer Patients

The Memorial Sloan Kettering Psycho-Oncology Education & Training Institute initiated its programming in 2015 with An Introduction to Meaning-Centered Psychotherapy in the Oncology and Palliative Care Setting.

Training in Meaning-Centered Psychotherapy for Cancer Patients

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Meaning-centered psychotherapy is designed to help diminish feelings of despair that can be associated with cancer by helping patients to focus on the importance of creating, reconnecting with, experiencing, and sustaining meaning in life through common and reliable sources.

The approach is inspired primarily by the works of psychiatrist Viktor Frankl and further informed by the contributions of psychiatrist Irvin Yalom. Memorial Sloan Kettering researchers adapted concepts from these thinkers to create this intervention, which is adaptable to both group and individual therapy formats.

Goals of Meaning-Centered Psychotherapy

The practice aims to diminish despair, demoralization, hopelessness, and the desire for hastened death from illness. Therapists work with patients to discover, reconnect, enhance, or sustain a sense of meaning.

Elements of the intervention aim to:

  • optimize coping through an enhanced sense of meaning and purpose in the time participants have left, regardless of how long or limited that time is
  • facilitate a greater understanding of the sources of meaning that can be used as resources, even after a diagnosis of advanced cancer
  • promote a therapeutic relationship through which cancer patients explore personal issues and feelings regarding their illness

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Therapists providing MCP work to help broaden the scope of possible sources of meaning through a combination of didactic teaching, experiential exercises, homework assignments, open-ended discussion, and interpretative comments. The hope is that these practices promote emotional expression and facilitate patients’ adoption of a meaning-focused perspective.

MCP Training Sessions for the Cancer-Care Professional

MSK’s intensive two-day MCPT training course provides psychosocial cancer-care clinicians access to the principles, techniques, and applications of this type of therapy. Trainees learn how to provide group as well as individual MCP to patients with advanced cancer in their own clinical settings. The training is designed to be experiential and allow practice of MCP skills through the use of role play with trained actors and participation in MCP groups led by MCPT leaders.

Upon completion of the training program, trainees should expect to be familiar with and competent in the following:

Existential and MCP concepts

Participant is able to coherently and comfortably describe existential concepts and meaning-centered concepts, such as responsibility, freedom, choice, being, death anxiety, existential guilt, existential vacuum, and isolation.

Familiarity and utilization of MCP manual

Participant demonstrates familiarity with the organization of each of the therapy sessions as well as the theories, concepts, and scripts provided in the MCP manual.

Didactics on Sources of Meaning

Participant is able to describe the meaning-centered concepts pertinent to each session in a clear and cogent manner, incorporating the patient’s personal details to flesh out examples when possible.

Experiential Exercises 

Participant presents the experiential exercise questions during the session, assists the patient with creating a coherent response, and highlights the patient’s personal sources of meaning as relevant.

Identification of Sources of Meaning and Facilitation of Discussions Focusing on Meaning

Throughout each therapy session, participant identifies sources of meaning as they arise in the patient’s narrative and highlights how they may be used as resources to find and enhance meaning.

Faculty Members Providing MCP Training

Ongoing Training Requirements and Resources through Trainee Resource Access

During the year following the two-day training course, participants are also expected to log in to the Trainee Resource Access to:

  • provide feedback every three months on their use of MCP in their own clinical setting, utilization of training program materials, and an update on their training goals
  • participate in a minimum of two monthly follow-up training calls
  • watch a minimum of two webinars depicting strategies for working with clinically challenging cases or adaptations of MCP

Dates and Logistics 

This course is open to participation by psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, and social workers.


Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Comskil facility
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
641 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10022


This program is funded by a NCI R25 grant from the National Cancer Institute (Grant # 1 R25 CA 190169-01A1) to support innovative educational efforts to improve quality of life among cancer patients.

CME credits

Participants receive continuing medical education (CME) credits if eligible, or a certificate of attendance at no cost to the participant.


Participants receive a travel stipend of $100 (for residents of the tristate area) or $500 (for residents from outside of the tristate area) but will be responsible for making their own travel arrangements.