Seeing a counsellor or psychotherapist, who is trained and experienced at working with cancer patients, can help you and others close to you deal with the emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis and help to make sense of the many emotions that you are experiencing. For many people, talking to a trained counsellor who is not personally involved has helped them to gain a fresh perspective and has been an important first step in regaining control of their lives. They often discover a new strength and inner resources that they didn’t know they had, which has helped them to make choices about treatment decisions and the way forward that is right for them.
After receiving a diagnosis of cancer, people can understandably feel out of control and anxious. Even those surrounded by loving and supportive family and friends often feel isolated and can find relief in speaking to someone about their true feelings in a supportive, confidential and non-judgemental environment. Being able to express painful or angry feelings without fear of being judged, or upsetting those close to you, can be a great sense of relief and help alleviate many distressing symptoms such as depression, sleep disturbances and anxiety. This in turn can reduce tension and stress and help you regain a sense of control as well as reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation.
You can see a counsellor at any stage; at diagnosis, during treatment or when treatment has finished. You may sometimes be offered counselling support as part of your medical care. However, if this is not available, you can self-refer. Check that your therapist is experienced in working with cancer issues. Your first session allows you to decide with your counsellor whether he or she is the right practitioner for you. You will be asked questions about your health situation and general background, and are likely to be asked for your GP details. This is a necessary and ethical requirement on the part of the practitioner but does not infringe on your right to confidentiality which is only legally required to be broken in extreme situations. Respect for confidentiality is paramount and if you have any anxieties about this, the first session is the place to air them. The sessions usually last for up to an hour. Some clinics/individual practitioners offer telephone consultations and home visits so do check this when you first contact them.
If you have not had any previous experience of counselling, the various approaches and definitions may seem baffling. There are now thought to be three general types of psychological therapies; behavioural therapies, psychoanalytical and psychodynamic therapies, and humanistic therapies. However, research indicates that the most probable factors determining a successful outcome from therapy are the personal qualities of both the therapist and the client and the relationship between them, rather than the particular approach used. Trust your own reaction to the therapist when you first meet. Do you feel comfortable with them; do you feel listened to and understood? In practice, if you are offered cancer counselling, whatever the approach, it is likely to be focused on the issues and emotional impact of the diagnosis and treatment.
The therapist will want to help you make sense of your feelings and find ways to cope with the many decisions and changes that cancer can bring in its wake. You may only require short term counselling because, for example, after six to nine sessions you are ready to put your insights and solutions into practice. However, you could also find that you want to see your counsellor for longer because the shock of the diagnosis has resulted in the re-emergence of other difficulties that you are having to confront and with which you need support. When first contacting your practitioner or clinic, check how much flexibility is available to you in terms of session numbers.
All individual cancer counsellors and psychotherapists on the Yes to Life directory are based within the UK and have been specially selected by Yes to Life on the basis of their suitability. All of this group are fully qualified and insured and all are required to have a minimum of 2 years experience of working with and supporting cancer patients and their relatives, although in most cases they have been working in the field for much longer than that. When choosing a therapist, apart from confidence in their experience, it is vital that you feel comfortable with them. For this reason, it is a really good idea to have an initial session before making your decision to continue.
If you are contacting one of the clinics in the directory, please check that your Counsellor/Psychotherapist is fully qualified.
£40-60. Some clinics are able to offer an initial package of up to eight free/ low cost sessions. In some parts of the UK, specialist cancer counselling is not widely available and clinics and voluntary agencies may have a waiting list.