“I’m not crazy, I have cancer. Why would I need counseling?”
Counseling helps with all kinds of things that disrupt our lives and create stress and distress. Cancer and the treatments for cancer can bring about disruptions for patients, their families and their lives.
Grief and Loss
Going through the treatments for cancer seriously disrupts your lifestyle ….. the way you eat, sleep and socialize. Some of the things you did before the diagnosis have to be put on hold. Many people stop going to church, temple and other group activities, and vacations are often cancelled in order to protect the immune system during chemo or radiation therapy. The complexity of the treatment regimen, not to mention the associated fatigue, may dictate and limit your schedule. This loss of a lifestyle often needs to be acknowledged and grieved.
If your cancer required surgery, you may have lost body parts. Some women who have lost a uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries or breasts feel a loss of identity with the feminine part of themselves. Men often experience erectile dysfunction and feel a loss of their masculinity. This is a big deal and a common cause of depression. It’s difficult to talk to friends or family about this.
For anyone who has lost any part of themselves, an acknowledgment of the loss is a helpful step toward psychological healing. Some people might be told by others that they are ‘lucky’ that something could simply be removed to ‘cure’ them of cancer so they shouldn’t waste their time being sad about the missing part. Um, no. Your feelings are yours, and if it is affecting you, allow yourself to feel it. It’s a normal reaction to loss. A counselor familiar with all sides of the cancer journey can help you reconnect with the feminine or masculine part of yourself that you may feel is missing.
All chronic illnesses, and Cancer in particular, become unwelcome intruders in households, family life, and all relationships. The people around you usually don’t know how to react, what to say, or how to help. They often say stupid things, or hurtful things, or they don’t say anything at all. Some friends disappear. Relationships with loved ones change… sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. The fear that everyone is feeling the tension but no one is talking about it is often played out in controlling behavior, codependency, silence or anger. It can all feel personal. It isn’t. Most of the time, people just don’t know how to deal with this.
Individual, couples, or group counseling can help with all of it. The battle to fight cancer is enough to manage. Getting help with the emotional and psychological impact relieves you of this burden so you can concentrate on getting well.
by DeeDee Just, MA, MFT
Two studies that speak to this point:
Psychotherapy during radiotherapy: effects on emotional and physical distress.
Forester B, Kornfeld DS, Fleiss JL.
The authors determined the effects of ongoing weekly individual psychotherapy on the symptoms of patients undergoing a 6-week course of radiotherapy for cancer. Forty-eight patients were given weekly psychotherapy sessions for 10 weeks; another 52 patients served as control subjects. A statistically significant reduction was found in both emotional and "physical" manifestations of distress in the patients receiving psychotherapy compared with the control group. This was true regardless of gender, ward or private patient status, or knowledge of diagnosis. Patient gender and knowledge of diagnosis did affect the pattern and magnitude of the response to psychotherapy. PMID: 3966583 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Group psychotherapy during radiotherapy: effects on emotional and physical distress.
Forester B1, Kornfeld DS, Fleiss JL, Thompson S. Author information
OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to ascertain whether group psychotherapy during radiotherapy for cancer significantly decreases patients' emotional and physical distress. METHOD: Twenty-four patients receiving radiotherapy were randomly selected for group psychotherapy (six patients per group, 90-minute weekly sessions for 10 weeks). Another 24 patients served as control subjects. Each patient was given the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia (SADS) at the onset of radiotherapy, midway through radiotherapy, at the end of radiotherapy, and 4 and 8 weeks after radiotherapy ended.
RESULTS: The combined SADS items for depression, pessimism and hopelessness, somatic preoccupation and worry, social isolation and withdrawal, insomnia, and anxiety and agitation were used as a measure of emotional distress. The combined SADS items for anorexia, nausea and vomiting, and fatigue were used as a measure of physical distress. By 4 weeks after the end of radiotherapy, the patients who received group psychotherapy showed significant decreases in both emotional and physical symptoms, and the decreases were greater than those for the control patients. The subjects who initially seemed unaware of their cancer diagnoses had the lowest baseline levels of emotional and physical distress, but 4 weeks after the end of radiotherapy they had high distress levels. CONCLUSIONS: Group therapy may enhance quality of life for cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy by reducing their emotional and physical distress. The degree to which patients acknowledge the diagnosis of malignancy may be a factor in their initial distress level and their response to radiotherapy and group therapy.
PMID: 8214179 [PubMed - indexed for a paragraph.