Why Cancer Counseling?
Cancer affects individuals and families in numerous ways and cancer
counseling provides specialized support through the changes and impact
of dealing with cancer. Some individuals may experience
‘cancer-related distress’ which in 2010 was identified as a sixth
vital sign and defined as -
"an unpleasant emotional experience of a psychological, social and/or spiritual nature which extends on a continuum from normal feelings of vulnerability, sadness and fears to disabling problems such as depression, anxiety, panic, social isolation and spiritual crisis." – NCCN, 2010
Common indicators of cancer-related distress include but are not at all limited to depression, anxiety, anger outbursts, irritability, excessive worry, constant thinking, refusing to ask for help, chronic fatigue, issues of mortality, relationship conflict, social withdrawal, sleeping difficulties, and so on. While some level of distress is considered normal and expected, patients often report that they are reluctant to turn to family for support, leaving many feeling isolated and misunderstood. When this occurs, such individuals will benefit from cancer-focused counseling.
There is also the physical impact that cancer can have on the body, leading to issues with body image, sexual difficulties, reduced self- confidence, chronic pain, fatigue, and lifestyle adjustments, which all take a mental toll.
Cancer counseling approaches these in two ways, through grief and acceptance. Clients are encouraged to actively grieve the loss of their pre-cancer body, abilities, lifestyles, hopes, and/or expectations while simultaneously helping them to accept these changes. Time alone rarely serves to heal these emotional wounds, but therapy allows for quicker and more complete adjustment to the ‘new normal,’ as it’s commonly referred.
Cancer is also known to put significant strain on relationships. In addition to the increased fear and uncertainty, pre-existing issues within the relationship may become amplified, especially in areas of communication and conflict resolution. During treatment, parents and couples have to coordinate efforts and, in some cases, develop new roles within the relationship.
Counseling during this process can help couples with communication and introduce skills to aid with any conflict that may arise. After cancer treatment, couples often struggle to adjust to the ways in which cancer 'changes' the individual. Counseling during this stage of cancer recovery and survivorship can help the client identify their new needs and communicate them while supporting the relationship as it also grows to accommodate and integrate these needs.
Cancer is also known to 'kick up the dust' on unresolved or past experiences clients have endured, making past traumas and unresolved grief more prevalent on their minds. This can bring with it significant emotional distress and render their coping skills less effective. Note that this, too, is normal and expected during a cancer-related experience. Unpleasant as they may be, these reawakened emotions are seen as a new opportunity to process the old experiences and obtain deeper levels of resolution and healing and counseling can help with this.
Whatever way you find cancer affecting you, your children, or a loved one, just know that specialized support is available.