When you have received a cancer diagnosis, you have not only a physical problem to solve, but likely an emotional one as well. It is common to experience feelings of shock, anger, and overwhelm, as well as clinically diagnosable disorders like depression and anxiety. In addition, it is estimated that almost a quarter of cancer patients experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress within six months of diagnosis; the rates among breast cancer patients are much higher, reaching almost 80%. So, if you are in distress, you are definitely not alone.
Mental health counseling can be an effective tool to manage and address these feelings. According to the research, counseling offers specific benefits for people with cancer. These benefits include:
Learning to Cope
How do you wrap your head around this diagnosis? Your family and friends can offer support and empathy, but a counselor offers a neutral, safe space to process and come to terms with the reality of a cancer diagnosis. We are professionals, trained to help people handle crises. In Unite for HER, all our clinicians are experienced in working with cancer patients. We use that expertise to help you process what’s happening, as well as to develop strategies to take home with you.
Reduce feelings of overwhelm and increase a sense of control
Which doctor? Which hospital? Should I get a second opinion? If they disagree, which do I follow? Lumpectomy or mastectomy? Reconstruction or prosthetics? Cold capping? Gel booties? Sometimes the sheer number of decisions, and their weightiness, leaves us feeling overwhelmed. Counselors can’t answer the questions, but we can help you develop a sense of efficacy while you are making them. That sense of control is very important when it comes to emotional wellbeing.
Manage anxiety and depression
Depression rates range, according to studies, from ¼ to 70% of cancer patients. Anxiety rates reach nearly 50% among this population. Counseling is particularly good at addressing these issues. Learning to think about how we are thinking about ourselves, our lives, and our issues helps us to think more clearly and helpfully about them. Trauma-informed approaches help get at the deeper issues. It all helps you better deal with the diagnosis and all the emotions that brings up.
Cope with symptoms and side effects
There’s a lot to get adjusted to and working with a professional can help. Research suggests that people who work with mental health professionals during treatment have better success with long-term compliance. She who has a why to live can deal with any how, to paraphrase Nietzsche. Counseling helps you get clear on and connected to the why so you can handle the how.
Deal with emotional concerns
The roller coaster. Body image. Intimacy and sexuality. Meaning. Loss of control. These and many other issues are the stuff of great therapy sessions. Creating a sense of meaning around our cancer stories helps us feel better, not just about cancer but about ourselves.
Manage fear and worry about the future
Staying present and getting off the merry-go-round of future anxiety is easier said than done, until we practice. Counseling offers a chance to practice, as well as to build a toolkit for resilience. The lessons and insights gained in counseling move out of the therapy room and into our lives. People say they are better for it.
When you are going through a crisis, it’s reasonable to arm yourself with tools that will help you successfully navigate the crisis. Counseling is one of those tools. It also is a place to learn and practice those tools. If you’d like to use your passport to set up a counseling session, check out our provider list here.
Sarah Murphy LPC, Unite for HER Staff Counselor