Psychological Impact of Cancer

A cancer diagnosis can mean increased distress for patients and their loved ones. To receive a cancer diagnosis, “flabbergasted”, “floored”, “crushed”, or “shocked” is an understatement. Most people endure emotional anguish during and after cancer treatment.

Emotional Symptoms of Cancer

Psychotherapy, though effective, is under-utilized as a treatment option. Psychological reactions to a cancer diagnosis can include anger, hopelessness, despair, depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, and relational distress. Therapists trained in the complexity of cancer diagnosis and counseling those with cancer can help minimize these symptoms through the cancer survivor's journey and unique psychosocial stressors.

When to Seek Help

It is normal to feel distressed while living with cancer. It is important to seek help when the distress is long lasting, typically more than two weeks. Seeking help is also important when your feelings affect your ability to cope with your daily life. Most people find counseling helpful even if a level of distress is not severe. Living with cancer is a huge challenge for everyone. Even a few counseling sessions will likely help you. It is also important for family and those that support you, especially caregivers and parents of children with cancer, to seek counseling as well if they are experiencing lasting stress due to your diagnosis.

Psychological Treatment

The goal of counseling is to identify unmet emotional needs, provide support, and help the client to cope constructively with the uncertain outcomes associated with cancer.

Counseling services can include:

  • Adjustment to diagnosis and treatment
  • Coping with life changes
  • Relaxation and mindfulness
  • Advance care planning
  • Crisis intervention
  • Grief and loss
  • Sexuality and intimacy
  • Relationship safety
  • Talking to children/teens whose parents have cancer
  • Couples or family counseling
  • Support groups
  • Coping skills education to deal with symptoms such as pain, fatigue, or nausea

Choosing a Counselor

Many people feel nervous when talking to a new person about personal issues, especially the struggles with cancer, even when that person is a professional counselor. The success of counseling depends on how well you interact with the counselor and your comfort level with the individual. Not every counselor will be a good match and even fewer will have the experience necessary to offer quality therapy for someone with cancer. If you do not feel at ease after a few sessions or think the counselor’s suggestions are not helping you after several appointments, then find a new one that may be a better match for you and your needs. 

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