Think Positively – Chapter one

Psychology has a vital role in the treatment and management of cancer. Some of the questions addressed with a psychologist are,“What are the mental effects of cancer diagnosis and treatment?”and “How can people who have cancer learn to cope with emotional distress?” A psychologist can also offer support for the families, friends and caregivers of those who have cancer, as they often do not receive the support they need during this time. This field of psychology is often termed psycho-oncology.

Diagnosis during Cancer

Every phase of cancer can be associated with multiple and often unpredictable stressors. The psychological response to these stressors varies on a spectrum that ranges from normative emotional distress to severe psychological symptoms that meet the diagnostic thresholds for psychiatric disorders, such as major depression or anxiety disorder.

Emotional distress in the context of cancer may include a diverse range of feelings, including hopelessness, dependency, loss of control, uncertainty, worries about the future, concerns about being a burden to others, and loss of dignity. These are feelings that are all too common for individuals living with cancer; in fact, 20%-50% of patients with cancer will experience substantial distress at some point during their disease trajectory. Untreated elevated emotional distress does not only impose a psychological burden but is also is associated with poorer quality of life, prolonged hospital stays, and increased physical symptoms such as pain. Therefore, identification and management of any form of emotional distress is a vital aspect of continual quality cancer care.

Psychotherapy Treatment

A diagnosis of cancer challenges patients’ and families’ emotional, cognitive and interpersonal domains of functioning. As a result, comprehensive and integrated oncology care includes careful and ongoing consideration of patients’ overall coping skills and their existential and psycho-spiritual well-being.

Psychological interventions in cancer care can be conceptualised as a continuum, along which treatments are differentiated on the basis of structure, frequency, and depth.

For cancer patients, various interventions, including supportive psychoeducation, relaxation techniques, mind-body approaches such as mindfulness-based therapy, and several forms of individual and family therapies have been shown to result in distress reduction, improved coping and better functioning.

At Life Clinic, cancer patients will be assessed from a biopsychosocial perspective that allows individual and personally relevant interventions to be implemented. We ensure that both the psychological symptoms and the disease-related factors are addressed and supported during care. A thoughtful exploration of patients’ understanding of their illness and prognosis, experience of cancer and physical symptoms, concurrent stressors, culture, belief system, and personal relationships help to develop an individual and comprehensive treatment plan. In addition to individual care, we frequently offer small group sessions to build community and practice emotional management strategies together.

Holland, J. C. (Ed.). (2010). Psycho-oncology. Oxford University Press.

written by Julia Alisha Andre, Registered Psychologist (HKPS), Psycho-oncologist

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