Psychotherapy provides essential coping mechanisms and strategies for children who are diagnosed with cancer, as they experience the extraordinary burden of physical, emotional, and mental strains. While many medical advancements have been made within the past few decades, progress related to psychotherapy for pediatric cancer patients has not been commensurate, evidenced by the limited current literature. Given the sparsity of relevant research, it is presently difficult to compare and evaluate the various psychotherapeutic interventions available for pediatric oncology patients. Additionally, there are significant challenges in providing psychotherapeutic care for patients and their families, including lack of consistency, disruption of care, and unique considerations regarding the medical setting. This systematic review conducted a comprehensive search through four electronic databases to compile a list of studies that examined the effectiveness of CBT-based and therapeutic play-based interventions for children with cancer within the medical setting. Three main research questions were addressed: (1) Which is the more effective psychotherapeutic intervention between cognitive behavioral therapy and therapeutic play for this population? (2) What are the factors to take into consideration when providing psychotherapy for children who are diagnosed with cancer? (3) What are the unique aspects of the inpatient setting to consider for therapeutic interventions? After two screening phases, thirteen studies were included for final selection. Considerable differences among studies made it difficult to make comparisons between the diverse psychotherapeutic interventions. However, seven themes emerged throughout the review: (a) modifications to intervention, (b) developmental stage, (c) health, physical, and cognitive limitations, (d) emphasis on pain, (e) scheduling and space, (f) multidisciplinary team, and (g) social isolation. Therefore, the aim of the study shifted from comparing two psychotherapeutic interventions to exploring the benefits of a variety of interventions and providing a discussion of the substantial factors when working with this population. Identified features for cost-effective and appropriate psychotherapeutic treatment included shorter timeframe, flexible administration, portability, and comprehensible techniques. However, more research needs to be done for this specialized population and unique setting. Recommendations include conducting more studies that pertain to specific interventions, include larger sample sizes, and utilize the same tool for measuring similar psychological outcomes.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Cognitive therapy for children; Child psychotherapy; Cancer in children

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

David A. Levy