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Supportive Care for Cancer

Psychotherapy for Cancer

For Patients and Survivors

The National Cancer Institute reports that 15 to 25 percent of cancer patients experience depression. Men and women are equally affected. Cancer calls into question our most fundamental assumptions that we are safe, healthy and in control of our lives. Thus, it is normal for feelings of vulnerability, depression and anxiety to accompany cancer. Group therapy, psychotherapy and counseling can improve one's ability to cope.[1] To support successful medical treatment, psychotherapy helps patients develop positive emotional responses, and learn coping skills to address changes in lifestyle and relationships.

Our integrative psychotherapists use various techniques like guided imagery, hypnosis, meditation, cognitive restructuring and relaxation training to help patients develop a more positive response to their diagnosis and treatment. Guided imagery is a relaxation technique that combines sensory visualization and breath control to promote healing. Multiple studies indicate guided imagery decreases anxiety and depression, and it reduces pain and the side effects of chemotherapy.[2] One recent study at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, showed that men with prostate cancer who spoke with psychologists, and learned deep breathing and guided-imagery showed better immune response after surgery than those who had not.[3] Guided imagery can help patients feel more in control of their diagnosis and treatment. Studies have also shown hypnosis is effective in addressing pain and anxiety related to procedures in children with cancer, and in reducing pain, fatigue and sleep disturbances in patients generally.[4][5] Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or talk therapy, has been shown to reduce pain, insomnia, and help with adjustment disorders and sexual side-effects of treatment.[6][7]

The transition between treatment and recovery is a particularly difficult time when one is no longer surrounded by the treatment team. Survivors find individual therapy especially beneficial during this transition, just as they are learning to adjust to permanent changes in their diets, habits and bodies.

For Caretakers

Helping a loved one through a chronic illness can be isolating, and caretakers frequently feel the strain of constant vigilance against the disease and treatment side effects. These days, it is becoming more common for treatment to take place in an outpatient setting. Though this allows patients to stay with their families during treatment, it also means caretakers are managing more of the illness at home. It is completely normal for caretakers to experience feelings of guilt, anger, worry, discouragement and being overwhelmed. Talking with an experienced counselor who has either been a caretaker or has experience with cancer patients and their families can help you cope. Staying well physically and emotionally will enable you to best support your loved one through treatment and recovery.

What to Expect During an Integrative Psychotherapy Session

Integrative psychotherapy at our center utilizes guided imagery and music, mindfulness meditation, breathing techniques, hypnosis and coping training. Our practitioners are licensed clinical social workers and counselors with personal experience as survivors and caretakers. During the first session, the therapist will ask the patient questions about his or her diagnosis and treatment plan. Subsequent sessions are tailored to meet the patient's individual needs. Our therapists also work with caretakers and family. For those in the Baltimore area, the HopeWell Cancer Support Center located on Falls Road in Lutherville, Maryland, provides group therapy and support services for survivors, children and families, as well as bereavement support. Facing our own mortality is a lifetime task, and at the Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center, we aim to help you achieve a sharpened sense of wellness and purpose.

Appointments are available at our Green Spring Station office. Please inform your doctor or medical care provider of any integrative therapies used to support your cancer treatment.

Our integrative psychotherapists can also advise the newly diagnosed patient on finding support networks for specific cancers. In addition, please see our Resources and Links page for local and national cancer support organizations.

[1] Spiegel, David et al. "Effect of psychosocial treatment on survival of patients with metastatic breast cancer." The Lancet 334, no. 8668 (14 October 1989): 888-891. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61345-8 (accessed January 24, 2011).

[2] Eller, L.S. "Guided imagery interventions for symptom management." Annual Review of Nursing Research 17, (1999): 57-84. PMID: 10418653 (accessed January 24, 2011).

[3] Parker-Pope, Tara. "Focusing on the stress of prostate cancer." The New York Times. February 1, 2011.

[4] Kwekkeboom, K.L., et al. “Mind-body treatments for the pain-fatigue-sleep disturbance symptom cluster in persons with cancer.” Journal of Pain Symptom Management 39, no. 1 (Jan 2010): 126-38. PMID: 19900778 (accessed January 24, 2011).

[5] Brotto, L.A. et al. “Psychological interventions for the sexual sequelae of cancer: a review of the literature.”  Journal of Cancer Survivorship 4, no. 4 (December 2010): 346-60. PMID: 2060218 (accessed January 24, 2011).

[6] Osborn, R.L. et al. “Psychosocial interventions for depression, anxiety and quality of life in cancer survivors: meta-analyses.” International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine 36, no. 1 (2006): 13-34. PMID: 16927576 (accessed January 24, 2011).

[7] Landlier, W. and A.M. Tse. “Use of complementary and alternative medical interventions for the management of procedure-related pain, anxiety and distress in pediatric oncology: a review.” Journal of Pediatric Nursing 25, no. 6 (December 2010): 566-79. PMID: 21035021 (accessed January 24, 2011).