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What is Psycho-oncology?
Psycho-oncology is a specialist area of psychology that focuses on the psychological, social and behavioural aspects of cancer. It addresses the psychological responses that cancer victims and their families may experience at all stages of the disease, as well as the psychological, behavioural and social factors that may influence the disease process. It is often a dynamic approach by many specialists, in order to support the person and their family through the diagnosis, treatment, and possibly palliative care of the person with the disease.
It is very important to seek help, both for yourself and your family, as this can be a highly stressful and emotional time. Professional support can help reduce the strain on you and loved ones.
Common reactions to cancer
- Fatigue or sleeping problems
- Inability to participate in daily life or enjoy once pleasurable activities
- Worry and anxiety: these are normal reactions to stressful situations. If your anxiety is troubling you then you might like to talk to a psychologist about ways of coping with it
- Anger and resentment: feeling angry and upset by your cancer diagnosis is not unusual and can be very distressing
- Low mood: It is not unusual to feel low after being diagnosed with cancer or during or after treatment. Feelings of depression, sadness and grief can all contribute to feelings of enduring low mood
- Fear of cancer coming back, feelings of being “betrayed” by your body
- Strained relationships with your loved ones
- Loss of confidence
Strategies for emotionally dealing with cancer
- Don’t expect to be at your peak level of energy, productivity or mood. Set small goals for yourself, and congratulate yourself for the small tasks that you accomplish
- Write down your thoughts and feelings, perhaps in a journal. This can help avoid rumination and negative thought spirals
- Learn relaxation techniques, such as meditation, muscle relaxation, mindfulness or yoga
- As with other mind-based issues, your body is important, as a healthy mind and healthy body often go together. Remember to take regular exercise, drink plenty of water, and avoid drugs and alcohol
- Talk to other people. Voice your feelings to others who are close to you, and reach out to others that are in similar situations, especially if you feel that you are the only one feeling those feelings
- If you are a caregiver, understand that it is okay for this to be a tough time for you. Ensure you are looking after yourself as well, as you cannot help your loved one without the energy to do so.
When to seek professional assistance
The Psychology Melbourne team includes specialists in psycho-oncology. Talking over your problems and concerns with an experienced psychologist in a safe environment can help. They can provide support and information, and help you manage the challenges arising from a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Treatment options include cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and existential therapy. Psychologists can also teach you a range of practical coping skills such as relaxation, stress-management and how to challenge self-defeating patterns.
Our cancer counselling team
Dr Deidre Pye
Dr Miriam Grossbaum